Prolonged drought conditions continue to contribute to low soil moisture levels in many parts of the country and have resulted in the lowest hay production estimates seen in the U.S. since 1953. This year’s forecast harvest of 120.3 million tons (all hay) follows the meager harvest of 131.1 million tons 2011/12. In response to the poor hay crop, Secretary Vilsack has opened approximately 3.8 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands, including higher yielding CP25 lands, for emergency haying and grazing.

Hay yields have been adversely affected by the drought and the all-hay yield is anticipated to be 2.09 short tons per acre, down from 2.36 in 2011. The 2012/13 all hay yield is about 14 percent smaller than the 10-year average yield of 2.42 tons per acre. Harvested acres for 2012/13 are forecast at 57.57 million acres, up slightly (1.94 million acres) from last year’s estimate and down very slightly from the July forecast.

Poor hay crop prompts federal response

Alfalfa hay production is forecast at 54.9 million tons, down more than 10 million tons relative to last year’s production of 65.3 million tons. Based on August 6 crop conditions, yields are expected to average 2.92 tons per acre, down 0.48 tons per acre from last year. If realized, this will be the lowest yield since 1988, when alfalfa yields were estimated at 2.59 tons/acre. Harvested area is forecast at 18.8 million acres, nominally changed from July and down only slightly from last year’s harvested area estimate of 19.2 million acres.

Other hay production is forecast at 65.4 million tons, and is very similar to realized production from the 2011/12 crop. Based on early August conditions, other hay yields are expected to average 1.69 tons per acre, a slight decrease from last year’s estimate of 1.81 tons per acre and the lowest yield since 1988 when a yield of 1.48 tons per acre was realized. Harvested area, forecast at 38.8 million acres, is unchanged from July but up 2.34 million acres from last year.

For the sixth year in a row, roughage-consuming animal units (RCAUs) are estimated to be down. RCAUs are expected to total 67.03 in 2012/13, a decline from the 2011/12 estimate of 67.91. With hay production dropping significantly, available supplies per RCAU also declined from 1.94 tons in 2011/12 to 1.79 tons in 2012/13. This is the lowest hay supply per RCAU ratio in more than 25 years.

Poor hay crop prompts federal response

Scarce hay supplies have driven prices higher. The July 2012 all-hay price was $184 per ton, compared to the July 2011 price of $170 per ton. July alfalfa prices have also increased from $189 per ton last year to $198 in 2012. The July estimate for hay other than alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures is $143 per ton, up from $133 in June 2012 and up significantly from the July 2011 price of $119 per ton.