By Rick Mooney
Editor, eHay Weekly

After a bleak 2009, the outlook for U.S. hay exports is on the upswing. “Demand in general has picked up,” says Adam Lyerly of El Toro Export, LLC, in El Centro, CA. “We’re finally getting back to more normal-type numbers, and it feels really good.”

Continued interest in U.S. hay on the part of Chinese buyers is one positive development. To date, the Chinese, relatively new players in the worldwide hay trade, have limited their U.S. purchases to alfalfa hay for use in their rapidly emerging dairy industry. “They’re very pleased with the quality of U.S. alfalfa,” says Lyerly. “In terms of nutritional quality, it’s far better than anything they can produce domestically.” He adds that, by some estimates, the volume of hay exports to China this year could be double what it was in 2009.

The pace of hay exporting to South Korea has also picked up in recent months. Sales to the Pacific Rim country, a long-time major buyer of U.S. hay, dropped off sharply last year when the value of the Korean Won tanked relative to the U.S. dollar. “That made hay and other exports extremely expensive for the Koreans,” says Lyerly. “But now the Won has stabilized a bit and, in the last few months, they’ve actually been purchasing more than normal.”

The Middle East, particularly the United Arab Emirates also remains a bright spot in the overall export picture. “It’s a little more quiet right now than it was last year at this time, but we think that’s mostly the result of buyers working down their inventories. In a month or two, we’re anticipating that they make another buying push.”

While most of the hay sold to the Middle East in recent years has been alfalfa, Lyerly says buyers from that part of the world are expressing more interest in grass hays. “They’re learning how to use bermudagrass and kleingrass along with alfalfa in total mixed feeds for their non-dairy animals,” he says. “We’re hoping that kind of thing will catch on in China soon and open markets for grass hay there.”

In the meantime, keeping up with current levels of foreign demand for U.S. alfalfa remains challenging for exporting firms in the Southwest. “We’ve had some minor supply glitches this year,” says Lyerly. “We had excessive winter rains and a cooler-than-normal spring. That’s put the alfalfa harvest in this area behind about a week or two at a time when people are looking for product. All in all, though, it’s a nice position to be in. You want to be wanted.”

To contact Lyerly, phone 760-455-3861 or email alyerly@eltoroexport.com. Learn more about El Toro Export, LLC.