With drought crimping hay production in many parts of the country’s midsection, the race to line up supplies for the feeding season ahead has begun in earnest. One indication of how intense the search for hay is likely to become: heavier-than-normal traffic on Internet hay directories and hay hotline sites maintained by state ag departments and university Extension offices.

“We’re definitely getting a lot more calls this year than we normally do,” says University of Arkansas (UA) Extension forage specialist John Jennings. He oversees UA’s Arkansas Hay Producers Database, a site listing producers by county and type of bales available. “It seems like everyone is scrambling to find hay.”

Listings of people with hay to sell are way down compared to those of a year ago, Jennings notes. “The crop is just so short this year. Our first crop was 60% of normal, and there is no second cutting coming on. I think a lot of people are just trying to hang on to the hay they have because they don’t know if they’re going to need it themselves this winter.”

Extremely dry conditions have also sparked “tremendous interest” in the Missouri Hay Directory maintained by the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA). “In a normal year, sellers would likely outnumber buyers, and we would see a few thousand hits a month on the Web site,” says Mark Murphy, MDA commodity program manager. “However, when you combine the drought conditions and increased awareness this year, it’s no surprise that more buyers and sellers are connecting through the directory now.” 

It currently has about 50 listings from sellers with hay available. Following an MDA press release about the directory last month, the site registered more than 11,500 hits. So far in July, there have been more than 6,000 hits. Last year, hits for the entire month of July numbered just more than 5,700.

The situation is flip-flopped in Oklahoma, says Jack Carson, market reporter for USDA-Oklahoma Department of Agriculture (ODA) Market News. He manages its online directories listing in-state and out-of-state hay producers, which can be accessed at ODA’s home page in the right rail under the "Directories" heading.

“We have a lot more listings of hay for sale on the site now than we did a year ago at this time when we were the ones dealing with drought,” says Carson. “And this year the listings are primarily from in-state growers. Last year, we had a lot of listings from Missouri and Arkansas. This year, they don’t have any hay to sell.”

ODA doesn’t routinely track hits. “But when I talk to hay growers who are making use of the directory, they tell me their phones are about ringing out of their pockets,” says Carson. “A lot of people are looking for hay.”

Even with the production shortfall in nearby states, prices have remained fairly stable, Carson says. “Trucking costs are becoming an issue. Hay isn’t that overpriced right now. But by the time you put trucking on it, that hay can get to be pretty expensive.”

While hay supplies currently appear adequate throughout the state, the market could turn on a dime, he says. “We didn’t have a lot of carryover coming out of the winter. We had good early cuttings of rye and wheat hay, but buyers jumped right on that, and what there was for sale went fast.

“It was the same with our first cutting of bermudagrass. And unless we get some significant rainfall and cooler temperatures soon, we won’t be getting a second cutting of that.”

Contact Jennings at 501-671-2171 or jjennings@uaex.edu, Murphy at 573-751-5633 or Mark.Murphy@mda.mo.gov and Carson at 800-580-6543 or jack.carson@ag.ok.gov

Links to hay hotlines, lists and directories maintained by public agencies and ag organizations are available at hayandforage.com.