May 1 Hay Stocks Provide Early Perspective on 2024 Hay Supply

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

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) released their May 1 hay stock estimates as part of the May Crop Production report on Friday. At the national level, hay stocks were estimated to be up by more than 46% from 2023. To be fair, hay stocks on May 1, 2023, were as low as they had been since 2013. But a year-over-year increase of this magnitude is noteworthy and confirms that hay supply has continued to increase after a very challenging year in 2022.


USDA-NASS estimates hay stocks twice per year – May 1 and December 1. The December estimate can be loosely thought of as hay supply going into the winter. Since most hay is fed during the winter months, this supply is drawn down until grazing begins the following spring. The May estimate can be loosely thought of as hay supply at the start of the grazing season. While this is an oversimplification of the hay production and feeding system, it does provide a framework from which to consider hay stock levels.

The widespread drought of 2022 left hay supplies tight across most all of the US. Producers responded by harvesting more hay acres in 2023, resulting in a 6.3% increase in all hay production. Production of non-Alfalfa hay types, that tend to be fed to beef cows, was actually up by about 9%. This increase in hay production occurred as beef cow numbers were decreasing, which impacted total hay needs. Without question, the supply picture has improved over the last year and a half, and the current drought monitor is encouraging with respect to production potential this spring.

While hay supplies have grown at the national level, it is always interesting to look at the state-by-state numbers. I am showing May 1 hay stocks for the last two years in several states in the table below. As a general rule, hay stocks were significantly higher year-over-year in the Southern Plains. Oklahoma saw more than a 4-fold increase while Texas hay stocks were significantly higher as well. States like Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee saw May 1 hay stocks relatively flat from the low levels of last year. The area of the county that seemed to show the most significant decrease was the Upper Midwest and I included Minnesota and Wisconsin for that reason.

I think it is important to look at hay stocks regionally because hay markets tend to be very localized. Since hay is an expensive feedstuff to transport, wide price differences can be seen across regions. While the table below looks at hay stocks at the state level, differences can be seen within states too. In some years, hay prices can be significantly different only a few counties away. While hay feeding may seem like it’s a long way off, it is never too early to assess hay inventory and start thinking about hay needs for the upcoming year.