August Hay Production Estimates are Encouraging, but Variation Still Exists

– Dr. Kenny Burdine, Extension Professor, Livestock Marketing, University of Kentucky

USDA’s August Crop Production report serves as an initial estimate of the size of the year’s hay crop and includes state-by-state estimates. This has implications for winter feed supply and winter feed costs for cattle operations. This year’s hay crop will be especially important following the widespread drought across much of the US last year. Estimated May 1 Hay stocks were down by more than 13% nationally this spring (see figure below), which was driven by a combination of the small hay crop last year and a large number of hay feeding days last winter. Like any estimate, a lot can still happen for the remainder of the growing season, but it does provide some perspective on what can be expected from hay supplies going into fall.

For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to focus on what USDA refers to as all other hay. In most states, this means that Alfalfa and Alfalfa mixes are excluded. I am simply doing this since that is the category that is most associated with winter feeding implications for cow-calf operations. At the national level, all other hay production is estimated to be up by 8% from 2022 as a result increased acreage and yield. Certainly, this is encouraging and suggests improved hay supply is likely at the national level. But hay is a unique product with high transportation costs, so markets tend to be very localized. For this reason, hay prices can vary a lot from one area to the next. While overall conditions are better this year, there are still large cattle producing areas that are dealing with drought.

In the table below, I selected some state-level all hay production estimates from the August report. I included Kentucky, Arkansas, and Mississippi since that is where Josh, James, and I reside. Hay production was projected to be higher in Arkansas and Kentucky, while being down a bit in Mississippi. I also included Tennessee as another state in the Southeast, where hay production is projected to increase by nearly 10%. Beyond the Southeast, I included some states that were of particular interest due to the scale of hay production or the change from last year. Missouri stood out with an estimated decrease in production of more than 20%. After significantly reduced production levels last year, Oklahoma and Kansas stood out for the opposite reason, with projected increases of 60.3% and 17.6%, respectively. Texas is the largest hay producing state in the US and is projected to produce over 12% more hay in 2023.

The August Crop Production report serves as an important reminder of how different production can be across states and even within individual states. Further, conditions are constantly evolving and fall weather will impact production levels and hay feeding days this winter. While discussing USDA’s estimates provides some context, the real message is that producers should already be making plans for their winter hay needs. It’s never too early to assess likely hay needs for the upcoming winter and make certain that a sufficient supply is available.