The drought in the southeastern U.S. is seriously sapping hay and pasture resources, warns Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia Extension forage specialist. He suggested that producers examine their livestock's feed needs and make hard decisions now before forage supplies are depleted and cattle markets further decline.

"We need to look for areas where we can minimize damage from short-term and long-term consequences of overgrazing and other things," said Hancock during a three-hour webinar he and University of Georgia and Florida colleagues recently hosted on drought management.

"We need to recognize that feeding hay is increasingly expensive, and I'm not just talking about from year to year," Hancock said. "I'm talking about, as the summer goes along and the drought gets worse, that hay becomes more and more valuable. And we need to recognize that we have a real shortage of hay right now."

Remaining hay stocks in Georgia on May 1, 2010, were almost 12% less than those reported the previous year; this year's May 1 numbers were down almost another 11%, according to National Ag Statistics Service data. "Obviously, we've been feeding a lot of hay this season and going through a lot of those hay stocks already. So hay stocks are very, very thin," the forage specialist said.

"To make matters worse, we've actually decreased the number of hay acres in Georgia approximately 12% since just last year. A lot of that went to row crops. Some of it went completely out of production. This is not setting up a really good scenario with regard to how much hay we're going to have on hand."

Hay production is off by 40-50% in Georgia, especially around its southern part, he estimated.

In response, Hancock and five other specialists organized the drought management webinar that looked at the current weather situation and projections, how to best deal with low feed supplies, the economic and market implications, and how to make use of federal disaster programs and special tax implications from weather-related forced livestock sales.

Synopses of some of the presentations can be found at hayandforage.com; click on the "Weathering The Weather" button. To view presentations from all six speakers, visit www.caes.uga.edu.