Hay movement into the Midwest from other areas likely will be heavier than usual this coming winter.

In its latest forecast of the 2002 hay crop, USDA estimated that total production will be 3% below last year’s level. Production of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass mixes is projected to be down about 9%, and the North Central Region accounts for all of the expected shortfall. That region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin, produced 17% less alfalfa hay this year.

Alfalfa production was down in almost all of those states. The exceptions were Michigan and Minnesota, which showed increases, and Illinois, where growers harvested the same amount as in 2001.

Production increased in most other areas, including the West, where final figures are expected to show record amounts harvested. In that drought-stricken region, grow-ers harvested good yields thanks to irrigation, and the re-cord output is due to acreage in-creases.

In California, for example, growers increased al-falfa acres by 15% in response to high 2001 hay prices and low prices for other crops. Hay prices there have been below year-earlier levels for the past several months.