USDA expects production of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures in the U.S. to reach 72.5 million tons this year, a 2% increase from last year’s total.

Based on Aug. 1 conditions, yields are projected to average 3.49 tons/acre, up 0.14 ton from the 2010 figure and the second-highest yield on record. In 1999, yields averaged 3.51 tons/acre.

The harvested area is forecast at 20.7 million acres. That’s unchanged from USDA’s June forecast, but down 2% from 2009 acreage.

Higher-than-normal precipitation in many alfalfa hay growing regions goes a long way in explaining the expectations of higher yields. The largest yield increase, to a record 4.2 tons/acre, is forecast in Indiana. Arizona and Nebraska are also forecasting record-high alfalfa yields. Other states with notable increases include Minnesota, New York and North Dakota. States forecasting lower yields than in 2009 include Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

For other hay, USDA is forecasting production of 81.4 million tons, up 7% from last year’s number. If realized, it will be the second-highest production on record.

Yields are expected to average 2.09 tons/acre, up 0.11 ton. That would be a record-high yield, surpassing the 2.06 tons/acre of 2004. Harvested area is forecast at 38.9 million acres, unchanged from the June forecast but up 1% from the 2009 figure.

Producers in California, Nebraska, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota are expecting record-high yields. The largest expected increase is in Texas, up 0.9 ton/acre. Texas producers are trying to replenish hay stocks after low production levels the last two years. The largest forecast yield reduction compared to last year is in Virginia. USDA expects other hay yields in that state to be down 0.40 ton due to hot and dry weather.

See the entire Aug. 12 Crop Production report from USDA.