Wild weather patterns took a toll on the 2019 hay season causing the nation’s hay stock to reach its lowest level since 2012 and quality to be “hit” or “miss.” Looking to 2020, regional supply and demand will continue to be the driving force behind the swing in hay acres and prices.
“Due to poor-quality hay and challenging weather in 2019, I anticipate there is going to be some feed shortages for a lot of farmers going into 2020,” says Greg Bussler, deputy director at USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Because of this shortage, I think next year there is going to be a strong demand for farmers in the Midwest to plant more acres to hay.”
In parts of California, Washington and Idaho, some hay growers are looking at doing the opposite and decreasing their number of hay acres.
“California, which used to be the top alfalfa-producing state in the nation, has now dropped to No. 4,” says Josh Callen, a hay market analyst for the Hoyt Report. “[Farmers in these states] have replaced a lot of their hay acres with almond and orchard acres, creating a pretty stark decline, and we aren’t predicting that trend to change anytime soon.”
While the amount of hay planted is decreasing in California, hay prices have remained relatively flat in the West. One reason could be that dairy producers have cut back on the amount of high-quality alfalfa they use in their total mixed rations.
According to Callen, in 2011 dairy farmers were putting roughly 11 lb. of alfalfa per day into each cow’s diet. Today, that number has dropped significantly.
“Just talking to some of our dairymen contacts, we’re hearing that number drop down to as low as 3 lb. to 5 lb.,” Callen says. “Soybeans have been cheap, so farmers have been able to bump up their soybean meal to supplement their protein. Almond hulls have also been a popular substitute.”
However, other high-producing dairy states, such as Wisconsin, have not had as much luck reducing the amount of forage fed and stocks continue to dwindle. According to the Wisconsin Ag News Hay Stocks report, the state reached an all-time low of 330,000 tons of hay in 2019, the lowest it has been since records began in 1950.
“I think we’re going to see a larger demand for higher-quality hay here in the coming months,” Bussler says. “This poorer-quality hay mixed with poor-quality corn silage is going to cause a negative impact on milk production.”
Contrast to the dairy industry, the abundant rainfall in the Midwest helped improve pasture and range conditions for beef producers. Because of the wet conditions, however, cut hay was frequently rained on, causing quality to take a hit and hay stocks to be limited.
The increase in hay demand mixed with an unpredictable number of planted acres could bite into farmers wallets as we enter the 2020 hay season.
(Tons per acre)
(Dollars per ton)
All Hay Price
* Published by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri *