U.S. hay stocks on May 1, the beginning of the hay crop year, were estimated at 24.5 million tons, up 27.9 percent from last year and 73.2 percent above the 2013 drought lows. The 2015 level was the highest May 1 hay stock level since 2005. U.S. hay supplies are projected to be slightly higher this year with lower prices anticipated for both alfalfa and other hay. The Oklahoma May 1 hay stocks level was 1.44 million tons, up 31 percent from one year ago and the highest level since 2008. In Oklahoma, as well as nationally, hay stocks have recovered dramatically from the drought reduced levels in recent years.
The wettest May on record and more rain in June has impacted Oklahoma hay quantity and quality. The floods in May and June resulted in damage or destruction of some stored hay and some new hay production. Low lying alfalfa fields were flooded long enough to kill the alfalfa in some cases and some grass hay fields near rivers were covered with silt and sand. In many cases hay production was nearly impossible during this period resulting in reduced production and poor quality for hay that was excessively mature when it was finally harvested. In particular, wheat that was intended for hay was delayed to the point that the quality was very low as the wheat moved toward maturity before harvesting.
More rain and flash flooding are forecast in Oklahoma this week which will further add to the difficulties in harvesting hay. The delays in hay harvest may reduce both the quantity and quality of hay production this year. With flooding losses pulling down the May 1 Oklahoma hay stocks estimate and reduced production this year, overall hay supplies in Oklahoma will likely be smaller than previously projected. At this point no significant hay shortages are anticipated but producers in some regions are concerned. The most likely scenario is ample supplies of medium to low quality hay that will be difficult to utilize effectively and will increase cattle nutritional management requirements this winter.
Despite the continuing severe drought in the west, pasture and range conditions are significantly better this year compared to this time last year. Across the U.S. 65 percent of pastures were rated good to excellent compared to 58 percent last year while 9 percent were rated poor to very poor compared to 15 percent at this time last year. The latest pasture and range conditions in Oklahoma were rated at 67 percent good to excellent compared to 39 percent at this time last year. Nine percent of Oklahoma pastures are currently rated poor or very poor compared to 24 percent one year ago. Continued rainfall means that good pasture and range conditions are expected to persist this summer. This is a year when it is easy to grow forage but challenging to harvest hay. Grazing management will be key to maintaining forage quantity and quality, not only for the summer but to plan ahead for fall and winter. Carefully planned grazing management and pasture fertility can go a long way to utilizing forage effectively this summer and stockpiling pasture for later use.
With better forage conditions comes the opportunity for Oklahoma cattle producers to implement more aggressive cattle production and marketing plans. Feeder cattle prices are currently 10 to 20 percent above this time last year. Cull cow prices are holding slightly above year ago levels as beef cow slaughter continues 18 percent below last year for the year to date. Replacement female values continue strong for open replacement heifers, bred heifers, bred cows and cow-calf pairs. Managing forage resources for continued recovery and long term productivity along with realistic forage production estimates should be the basis for any changes or expansion of cattle production.