Kevin Hogard took his third cutting from 150 alfalfa acres during two weeks of sunny weather in mid-July. His 2013 yield and quality have been very good.

“We haven’t gotten a sprig rained on so far this year,” says Hogard, of St. Mary, MO.

He and other growers in his state expect to have plenty of hay to sell, although not all will be high in quality. Last year was abnormally dry, so hay supplies were low going into winter and very little was carried over. Now hay barns are filling up and pastures are green again.

That’s the case throughout the eastern half of the U.S., which received plentiful rainfall through midsummer. The western half, on the other hand, remains in the throes of drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that, except for the northern tier of states plus Iowa, Missouri and Louisiana, every state west of the Mississippi River is abnormally dry.

The result is a hay-supply imbalance that will help keep the hay market strong until fall and probably longer, believes Matt Diersen, South Dakota State University ag economist. He expects supplies to be tight and prices high, although not quite as high as last year’s, at least until some 2013 hay is redistributed.

“Rather than a draw from the North to the South this year, we’re probably going to have a draw from states in the East to states in the West,” says Diersen.

Much of the eastern hay is low in quality, however. A cool spring delayed the harvest season in many areas; then persistent rains damaged first and second cuttings.

That’s the case even in Hogard’s area of southeastern Missouri. Because he takes the first cutting as baleage, he got his harvested on time and is on track for his normal six cuttings. Some of his neighbors are still working on second cutting, and growers in other parts of the state have had even more rainy-weather problems.

Sales have been slow. Hogard listed 850-lb, second-cutting square bales on the Missouri Hay Directory for $90/bale or about $220/ton, a little lower than his 2012 price.

“Everybody is kind of waiting to see what happens,” he says. “I wouldn’t have thought they’d do that this year after what we went through last year, but everybody is playing things pretty close to the vest right now.”

Ron Tombaugh recently delivered 190-RFV alfalfa to Wisconsin for around $350/ton, but that was 2012 carryover hay.

“I don’t know that there’s been much 190 hay made this year, even out on the Plains,” says Tombaugh, of Streator, IL.

All of his first- and second-cutting hay was rained on, although not all was severely damaged.

“Some of our first cutting was down two weeks,” he reports. “It’s all been down at least a week, and ordinarily we’d get it up in two or three days.”

Tombaugh occasionally gets five alfalfa cuttings but expects four this year because of the late start. Yields have been high. His normal full-season yield is 5.5-6 tons/acre, and the first two cuttings totaled over
3 tons/acre.

“We’ve got hay; the quality is not supreme.”

Rain has been an issue in Kentucky, too, but some quality hay has been harvested, reports Tom Keene, University of Kentucky hay marketing specialist. Cold weather in March and April delayed the first cutting past the normal early May start; then wet weather caused further delays. Growers had taken one cutting of grass and two of alfalfa by mid-July.

Some Kentucky growers will have hay to sell, but Keene doesn’t know if much of it will be available to new buyers.

“The ones who really do a good job — dot the i’s and cross the t’s — don’t have any trouble selling their hay,” he says. “Most of it’s committed prior to the season.”

While most of it is in round bales, 3 x 3’ and 3 x 4’ square bales are becoming more numerous every year.

Keene wonders, though, if livestock producers accustomed to feeding Western hay will be satisfied with hay grown farther east. Eastern hay doesn’t test as well as that grown in high elevations of the West, he points out.

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Diersen figures many Western livestock producers will look to buy almost any hay they can find, creating a market for low-quality hay that won’t exist farther east. Those with hay and forage crop insurance may have money to pay for it because indemnity payments are higher than they were a few years ago.

“That’s going to help keep
prices supported, because some of the farmers who need replacement feedstuffs are going to have the cash to be able to buy that feed,”
he says.

Eastern dairy and beef producers who ran short of hay last winter may be willing to part with some of their surplus production, especially with prospects for late-planted corn going to silage.

“If you can sell your rained-on hay for $100-150 a ton, maybe that makes sense for you,” he says.

Overall, Diersen expects 2013 hay production to end up slightly higher than last year’s, largely be-cause of a small increase in acreage. In its June Acreage report, USDA reported that growers expected to harvest 56.6 million acres of hay this year, up roughly 350,000 acres from the 2012 figure.

Most of the projected increase is in the eastern half of the country, including significant gains in Minnesota and Wisconsin where carryover stocks were at record lows and many alfalfa fields winter-killed. Nationwide, USDA put May1 carryover stocks at 14.2 million tons, a 34% drop from last year’s ending-stocks figure and an all-time low.

Although livestock numbers are down, Diersen figures 60 million hay acres would be needed to satisfy the demand and rebuild stocks to a reasonable level. At just 56.6million acres, supplies will be tight. Below-average consumption will be necessary in the 2013-14 marketing year, and that will be achieved with high hay prices, he says.

Hogard can be reached at 573-587-2151; call Tombaugh at 309-531-4229.

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