Katelyn McCulloch (Livestock Marketing Information Center)
Hay stocks are short. Drought induced hay use was a market topic for much of the year, reflecting dire conditions especially in the Southern Plains. Perhaps the December 1 hay stocks wasn’t the most anticipated item by USDA-NASS this month, but it certainly put this year in perspective when compared to history. The U.S. usually holds about 102 million tons of hay on December 1 (35 year average). This crop-year December 1 hay stocks were at 90.7 million tons, 11% below a year ago and the smallest December stock figure since 1988.
By region, it came as no surprise many states reported year-over-year declines in hay stocks. In the continental U.S. (Hawaii and Alaska are unreported), 25 states were below a year ago. Texas posted the largest year-over-year decline down a full 60%, followed by Georgia (41%) and Oklahoma (38%). States with the largest increases had large declines the previous year creating larger year-over-year gains as of December 1 – Virginia (50%), Utah (35%), and Mississippi (26%) were at the top of the that list.
Hay prices are expected to be high again in the coming marketing year. Acreage competition will again affect hay in most states. New seedlings of alfalfa are down 8% nationally. However, states such as Nevada, Arizona, and California indicate new alfalfa seedlings’ are greater than 40% above a year ago. Another concern for hay prices is impending dryness across the Southern states. Last year, Texas and Oklahoma had the benefit of above average May stocks to cushion effects of the poor pasture and range conditions. Another dry year without a cushion would likely lead to record high prices, again.
Hay 1 stocks are already looking slim; however, a mild winter has left more than adequate feed for cattle this winter in the western half of the country. Many states that are usually under snowpack have been able to continue to let their cattle feed on pastures, cornstalks, and other forages reducing the amount of hay used. In comparison, an area of the country that may have surprisingly low May 1 stocks is the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, where winter has not been so mild and a devastating mid-summer hurricane impacted production and stocks. Nationally, May 1 hay stocks are forecast to be well below a year earlier (likely 20% to 25% below a year ago) and the smallest since May 1, 2006.