If Matt Diersen were a dairy producer in a Great Lakes state, he might hold off on filling his wintertime hay needs. Hay production is up significantly in most of those states, and he thinks prices might moderate some later this fall.

“Everywhere else, I'd be scrambling to lock in my supply or looking for opportunities to ship hay in from a farther distance,” says Diersen, a South Dakota State University ag economist.

He says USDA's August Crop Production report points to continued short supplies and high prices throughout the country.

In the Aug. 12 report, USDA forecasts production of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures at 70.9 million tons, 2% below last year's number. Growers are harvesting 20.8 million acres, 4% fewer than they harvested last year. The average yield is expected to be up slightly, at 3.41 tons/acre — not nearly enough to offset the acreage decline.

Production of all other types of hay, forecast at 77 million tons, is 1% below last year's final figure, and harvested acreage is also expected to be down 1%, at 39.7 million. Average yields are at or above last year's figures in most states.

Alfalfa production will be the lowest since 1988, a dry year, Diersen points out. The average yield — 3.41 tons/acre — is okay, but it indicates to him that some of the best alfalfa fields have been planted to row crops.

“You'd have hoped they left the best ground in production, but we really haven't seen that,” he says.

The numbers will change some when hay is harvested from CRP acres that have been released. But most of that hay will be lower quality, not offering relief to dairy producers scrambling to find the hay they need.

Diersen suspects those producers will shop for hay that can be purchased at the best prices and most affordable transportation costs.

“It looks like production has moderated across the country,” he says. “There are no really awful spots and no really high production spots.”

To find out where hay is most likely to be available, read the USDA report at usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/MannUsda/viewDocumentInfo.do?documentID=1046.