The dynamics of the hay industry have changed. Whether it can just be attributed to a natural cycle or a permanent new normal is yet to be determined. One year ago, USDA reported that year-over-year May 1 hay stocks had declined by 36 percent, which amounted to 8.7 million tons. This past December, year-over-year hay stocks also dropped for the second year in a row. Last week, USDA’s Crop Production report pegged May 1 dry hay stocks at 14.9 million tons, 3 percent (442,000 tons) below one year ago. That’s not the same drop in magnitude as last year, but it’s also not a rebound. At 14.9 million tons, May 1 hay stocks were at their lowest point since 2013 when inventories tallied 14.2 million tons. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1950 to find a year with lower spring stocks (14.6 million tons). Some of the largest hay-producing states had year-over-year May 1 stock reductions much greater than the U.S. average. Falling into this group were: Colorado (down 57%), Arkansas (down 51%), Minnesota (down 50%), Oregon (down 47%), Idaho (down 39%), Mississippi (down 39%), Pennsylvania (down 34%), Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio were each down 31%. Not all states experienced inventory reductions. Some had large gains after experiencing severe reductions in May 2018 following less than desirable growing conditions the previous year. Included in the states that had large year-over-year inventory boosts were: Montana (up 120%), New Mexico (up 110%), California (up 80%), Nebraska (up 53%), Utah (up 40%), North Dakota (up 39%), Texas (up 34%).
What has made the difference?
2011 and 2012 years were characterized by severe drought, with the 2012 being nearly nationwide. This caused hay inventories to deteriorate and prices to soar toward record levels. Between 2009 and 2014, beef cow numbers declined by about 3 million head. We might point to that as a reason for the reduction in winter hay feeding except that since 2014 the beef cow herd has rebounded to 31.8 million, a number similar to one we had in 2009.
Regardless of the reason, there has been a significant decline in U.S. hay production in the past 20 years. From 2000 to 2010, the average annual dry hay production was 150.2 million tons. Since 2011, hay production has averaged 130.3 million tons per year. Hay prices during this time have remained relatively strong.
It’s probably safe to assume that many beef producers are figuring out ways to feed less dry hay to get them through winter. More and more, we’re seeing annual forages grazed into December or later. Also, it has been well documented that dairies in the West are feeding less alfalfa hay in their cow rations year-round. A number of producers have converted from dry hay to baleage. This directly impacts hay production and inventory figures but there is no data to document exactly what percentage of production has been recently converted from dry hay to baleage.
Whatever the reasons, USDA data is telling us that we’re producing and feeding less dry hay; both trends began in 2011, and whether this situation is cyclic or the new normal remains to be seen. ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower. See the full article here.