Recently (January 17th), USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics (NASS) released reports on: stock level as of December 1st, 2016’s final production statistics, and new alfalfa acres planted. Total U.S. hay stocks on December 1, 2016 were up 0.9 percent from one year ago at 95.8 million tons. Stocks were the largest since 2010’s. Nationwide, hay stocks continued to rebound from 2012’s drought induced low (the lowest since NASS started the December 1st report in 1986).

At the state level, changes in hay stocks varied widely. Drought was apparent in the southeast with Alabama hay stocks down 34.4% year-over-year, Georgia dropped by13.6% and Mississippi by 5.3% compared to one year ago. December hay stocks were lower as well in Tennessee and Kentucky compared to last year. Texas, which has typically had the largest state hay stocks in the past fifteen years, was up a whopping 25% to their highest level since 2007. Oklahoma, with the third largest December hay stocks, was up 4.6% year-over-year along with Arkansas, up 11.4% and Kansas (fifth largest state stocks), increasing 3.9% from last year. Farther north, stocks were 9.1% lower year-over-year in South Dakota, the state with the second largest hay stocks. Other states posting declines from the prior year included: North Dakota at 7.8%; Nebraska 9.8%; Missouri (fourth largest hay stocks), 4.5%; and Iowa a rather large 19.2%. Hay stocks were larger year over year in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho along with Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Nationally, the year-over-year increase in hay stocks may whittle-down significantly this winter due to increased cattle numbers. Additionally, the start of the winter feeding season has likely required more hay to be used in major areas of the U.S. than last year. So, national hay disappearance should be more than a year ago between the December 1st stocks and the next report, which will be as of May 1, 2017. 

The NASS reported hay stock level was not a surprise, but the magnitude of adjustments made to 2016’s hay production was unexpected. Nationally, the hay yield per acre was slightly larger than expected, however compared to NASS reports just a few months ago, acreage harvested of both alfalfa and grass (other) hay were reduced dramatically. Throughout the 2016 growing season NASS had been reporting significant year-over-year increases in hay acreage and production. For the U.S., the final acreage of alfalfa was reduced by nearly 1.2 million acres (down 7%) and other hay was lowered by about 1.5 million acres (dropping 4%). Overall, instead of more hay acres being harvested compared to 2015’s as expected, acreage fell in 2016 and total U.S. hay production was only barely (up 0.2%) larger than a year earlier. Low hay prices trimmed U.S. hay acreage harvested in 2016.

Looking ahead in 2017, one piece of new data came from NASS regarding alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures – new seedings (acreage planted in 2016). U.S. alfalfa acreage seeded in 2016 was the smallest since at least 1997, when the report began. The one year decline was 11% or 267,000 acres. Wisconsin had the largest one year drop (down 120,000 acres), followed by Michigan (dropping 35,000 acres), three states (Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio) that fell 30,000 acres, and Idaho slipped 25,000 acres.