November 30, 2017

Saudi Arabia: The Next Alfalfa Import King

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

American alfalfa hay exports have steadily grown over the past two decades. Exports to China, specifically, have accounted for a large portion of that growth over the past 10 years. But there’s a new king emerging: Saudi Arabia. According to USDA, exports of alfalfa hay to Saudi Arabia in 2017 are up 40% compared to 2016. The agency expects that to grow. The No. 1 reason? Saudi Arabia’s royal family.

Saudi Arabia is a total monarchy, meaning the king has complete control of the government. Alan Hallman, USDA’s FAS representative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, says by November 2018 farmers there won’t be allowed to grow more than 50 hectors of alfalfa. The problem is there are 425,000 dairy cows in the mid-sized country. Those cows consume roughly the same amount of alfalfa that California cows did in the early 2000s, Hallman says.

“Saudi Arabia’s decision to phase out forage production will increase demand for imported high protein alfalfa hay,” he says. “The additional 825,000 metric tons of projected imports would be worth roughly $250 million per year at 2016 prices.”

While Hallman expects the U.S. to remain the primary exporter of alfalfa hay to the desert country, Saudi dairies continue to seek alternative sources like purchasing alfalfa farms in Arizona, California and Argentina. In addition, Sudan could prove to be a source of forage for dairies in Saudi Arabia, but Hallman says there’s no data available to measure that.