Although a couple of rain events seem to be giving parts of Florida a break from the drought, the rain has been spotty at best. Hay is hard to find. "The hay supply for Florida, in general, is exhausted," says Yoana Newman, University of Florida forage specialist. The drought plaguing much of the Southeast has hit Florida hay producers hard. "The big story here is the lack of forages," says Andy Burns, Larsen Farms hay buyer at Alachua. "Hay is a high-priced commodity right now and local product, coastal bermudagrass, was non-existent until about two weeks ago. They've missed two cuttings and I would be surprised if even 10% of the hay has been cut yet in Florida. A lot of cattle seem to be going to market in both southern Georgia and Florida. People are going to have to come up with alternative ways to feed cattle." Increased transportation costs are also impacting hay prices. Newman provides an update for Florida by region:
Northwest: Hay growers here expect three to four cuttings in a normal year. "This year we will have two to three cuttings if the 'drought break' trend sets in," Newman states. At this point, ranchers are feeding wheat and oat straw. She says northern Florida is fortunate to have cotton and peanut production and producers are getting by with cotton gin trash and peanut hay.
Northeast and Central: Newman says these areas have received some rain, but it's been spotty. Hay retailers in Marion County (Ocala area and heartland of Florida's horse industry) are having a very difficult time with their local supply of bermudagrass hay. All hay retailers are expecting short deliveries this week.
South: An area northwest of Lake Okeechobee has received 10" of rain in the past three weeks, and stockpiled forage (winter growth) is being harvested. "It is not good quality but it is emergency cutting," she states. The desperate situation has motivated some large ranches in this area to cut pastures they usually reserve for grazing heifers.
In central and southern Florida, the two main types of hay clients are cattle producers and equine/small farm owners. Most cattle producers who rely on their own hay production have not been able to make any cuttings yet. The equine/small farm owners have no capability to produce their own hay and generally make up the horse hay market. "These producers depend almost entirely on external sources," Newman explains. "This group has been in short supply since November-December 2006. The hay supply for this group is the Southeastern states like Georgia, the Carolinas and as far north as Virginia. However, since these states have been shipping hay to south-central states struck by drought last year, their shipments to Florida are becoming very expensive." She says central and southern Florida seem to be seeing the light at the end of the dry-weather tunnel. First-cutting hay production is expected in July.
Contact Newman at 352-392-1811, ext. 212, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Andy Burns at 386-755-3300.