Hay growers around the U.S. have challenges before them, whether it's avoiding higher fertilizer costs or dealing with flood or freeze damages. Here are a few details:
East Texas -- Farmers can expect nitrogen fertilizer costs to be more than 50 cents per pound this year, say Texas Agricultural Experiment Station experts. The price of petroleum has driven up nitrogen prices, as have increased corn acres. But growers can lower input costs and maintain profitable production levels, suggest the researchers.
Winter legumes, which fix nitrogen from the air, can be part of the answer for Texas farmers, says Ray Smith, legume breeder and developer of Apache arrowleaf clover. The legumes require careful management, however.
"One thing we can do to deal with the really high cost of nitrogen in the future is add clover and other forage legumes into our pasture systems," Smith says. "We do this generally by planting in the fall and summer, but we need to make plans in the spring and summer to soil test and add lime into these systems so we are ready for fall planting." Properly managed, clovers can add 80-100 lbs of nitrogen per acre to the soils, he says.
One crop option that doesn't need nitrogen is alfalfa, says Vincent Haby, soil scientist with the experiment station. It was once thought that alfalfa couldn't be grown on most East Texas soils because of their high acidity. Haby's research has shown otherwise: With careful attention to soil amendments, a large proportion of East Texas soils are suitable for alfalfa production, he says. "If you have to put on phosphorus, do not split-apply if soil test is low. Get all the phosphorus out there in the spring. It will be available throughout the growing season."
(See agnews.tamu.edu/dailynews/stories/SOIL/Dec2204a.htm for more information on growing alfalfa on East Texas soils.)
Kansas -- The hay trade is slow in the state, according to USDA. Demand is moderate to strong for dairy alfalfa and brome, moderate for grinding alfalfa, stock-cow quality hay, alfalfa pellets, prairie hay and grass mulch. Rain over most of the state, with some flooding, interrupted haying operations and haylage chopping last week. Alfalfa yields are down statewide from a half to one ton/acre. Water-logged alfalfa in central Kansas is dying or damaged by root disease, reducing yields even more. Very little first-cut dairy-quality alfalfa will be baled. Producers are working hard to clean storm debris from fields.
Georgia -- The Farm Service Agency has approved federal loans to help Georgia farmers affected by the record-setting April 6-9 freeze. Hay, forage and pasture losses totaled $47.8 million. Total losses to Georgia's crops were put at $258 million, with the biggest losses reported for blueberries, peaches and pecans.
Oregon -- At $312 million, last year's gross sales of Oregon hay and forage commodities were up 22% from 2005's $256 million, according to the Oregon State University Extension Service. Total production of alfalfa hay was up about 7% while other hay production was up slightly. On average, prices per ton increased a healthy 15.5% over those of the previous year.
Grass and legume seed sales in 2006 were up 29%. Production of the three major Oregon seed crops -- tall fescue, annual ryegrass and perennial ryegrass -- rose 9.6% over 2005 levels. An estimated average 21% increase in prices helped boost the surge in seed gross sales.
"In summary, 2006 was a good year for Oregon agriculture," says Larry Burt, an OSU extension economist and coordinator of the annual Oregon agricultural statistics report. Oregon agriculture generated gross sales of $4.4 billion in 2006, setting an all-time sales record and logging a fourth straight year of sales growth.
Dairy product sales, however, were down 4%. Statewide, dairy cow numbers were down slightly and milk yields were steady. However, prices dropped 4.4%, causing a dip in gross sales of about $15 million below the 2005 sales level of $340 million.
A total of 82 commodities grossed $1 million or more in sales, the OSU economists noted in the report. According to Burt, Oregon boasts a broad diversity of agricultural commodities compared to most other states.