Hay supplies are short in Maryland after a year of drought. Much of the state had a cool spring followed by a dry summer and early fall. In some areas, precipitation is as much as 14-15" below normal. "Fortunately, so far we have had a relatively mild and open winter which has allowed longer grazing and has taken some of the pressure off of the need for feeding hay," says Les Vough, University of Maryland forage crop specialist emeritus. "Top-quality mixed and grass hay has been selling in the range of $250-300/ton at some nearby Pennsylvania hay auctions and for over $7.50/bale at a central Maryland hay auction catering mainly to pleasure horse owners. That is a significant cost, particularly for our pleasure horse owners. People are looking at alternative sources, but alternatives are limited in the horse industry. The livestock and horse owners have been able to utilize some remaining fall pasture, and it has been mild enough that people haven't had to feed extra hay."
Vough expects many pastures will need to be reseeded this year because of overgrazing. "With high hay prices it was hard to convince some livestock and horse owners to take animals off pastures in order to protect them," he says. "We probably destroyed a lot of grass pastures last summer because of the dry weather and overgrazing."
Maryland hay growers are looking at new grasses that haven't been grown for hay in the state before. "We have seen some good results with new bermudagrass varieties that have increased winterhardiness and seem to be well-adapted to southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore," Vough reports. "It was amazing how good the bermudagrass looked going into the winter even with the dry conditions. We are looking at several varieties."
Interest and enthusiasm for hay production is running high. "Although the dairy cow population continues to decline in Maryland, the horse population keeps increasing," Vough explains. "The market for hay exists in the state, but Maryland is a hay-deficit state. We import tremendous amounts of hay for the horse industry, so there is great potential in the horse hay market."
Hay growers and others interested in the hay business are invited to attend the Southern Maryland Hay and Pasture Conference on Jan. 9 at the Izaak Walton League Center, Waldorf. More information is available at mdforages.umd.edu/. Contact Vough at 301-405-1322 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington hay growers are enjoying an excellent hay market, but supplies are getting tight, reports Shawn Clausen, president of the Washington State Hay Growers Association (WSHGA) and owner of Stokrose Farm, Warden. "Demand has increased in the last month, especially for feeder hay. I think supplies are going to be tight going right into new production with very little, if any, carryover into next season. Prices are holding strong, but expenses are increasing, too. Most people I talk to are looking hard at their costs-of-production numbers because the costs of fertilizer, land rent and fuel are on the rise." Concerns about tightening up expenses spurred WSHGA to add a strong business component to the program for the upcoming WSHGA Conference and Trade Show on Jan. 16-17.
While hay yields were average in 2007, prices were higher than expected, says Clausen. "Farming was fun in 2007, and people are trying to use this opportunity to recoup costs and heal from weather damage in previous years," he says. Even with the high prices, some Washington hay growers are contemplating switching from hay to wheat or corn to take advantage of high prices. "There is less risk with some of the other commodities, too, because you aren't facing risk on four cuttings per year like you do when producing hay," he states. However, he still plans to harvest about the same number of hay acres in 2008. "We will be looking at ways to try to conserve both water and fuel while keeping a close eye on fertilizer prices and still shooting for good production," he says.
Clausen raises around 2,000 acres of alfalfa for the dairy, export and feeder hay markets. He says some Washington cattlemen are leasing acres to put cattle on cornstalks left in the field. Dairy producers are mixing high-quality hay with cornstalks or grass straw to stretch rations. "With commodity prices being so high, there is still a need for hay, even at high prices," he states.
Learn more about the WSHGA Conference, to be held at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, by calling 509-585-5460. Visit the WSHGA Web site at www.wa-hay.org/. Contact Clausen at 509-349-2324.