by DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Many farmers in the readership area have found that lack of precipitation has drastically reduced their hay crop, adding to their already tight hay supply.
Last December, the USDA reported that hay inventories in the United States were at approximately 71.9 million tons. This was a decrease of seven million tons from the year before, roughly a nine percent difference. This follows the trend over the last 20 years of decreasing hay stocks and has put the country at the lowest hay inventory in more than 70 years.
Nathanial Warenski, State Statistician of USDA-NASS, Indiana Field Office, says that “hay stocks on Indiana farms on May 1 were 220,000 tons, down eight percent from this time last year.”
“The low inventory is likely to keep average hay prices high across the nation, but prices are often dictated by the supply and demand at the regional level,” says Andrew Holden, OSU Extension Educator in Ashtabula County in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I’m hearing from most guys that hay is down 50 to 60 percent,” said Jeff Magyar, a farmer from northeast Ohio near the Pennsylvania border. “Hay was already expensive and $6-7 for small square bales. With the prospect of no second cutting, hay is going to be a very tight commodity.”
Farmers in the northwest portion of Ohio have seen only a slight dropoff in hay yields. “Except for the guys who had orchard grass mixed in, it seemed like the orchard grass did really good in this dry weather,” said Wood County farmer and Ohio Soybean Council Board of Trustees member Nathan Eckel. “Guys who have that orchard grass out there within that alfalfa did fairly decent, I would say maybe 10 to 15 percent off the normal crop.”
Bill Bayliss, a first-generation farmer from Logan County, serves as vice-chairman of the Ohio Soybean Council Board of Trustees. He resides in the central part of Ohio and says the quality of hay in his region is good, but the tonnage was down.
“It all got made early,” Bayliss said. “So if we could get normal rains, we’d probably get a decent second cutting.”
Bayliss says they still have a lot of leftover hay from the 2022 season, so they won’t be short supplied even if they aren’t able to get a second cutting.
“While eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania have seen some uptick in hay production recently, the two states are still historically low,” Holden said. “Our region is also seeing a continued increase in equine hay demand. Compared to other regions in the country, our numbers are somewhat stable, though declining, and our prices have not jumped as significantly as other states.”
According to Holden, Ohio has seen a nearly 50 percent decline in hay production from the late 1980s and early 90s where the state was producing around four million tons per year.
“The decline can be credited to many changes seen over that time,” Holden says. “The type of agriculture seen in the state, more row crop production and larger grain-fed livestock operations have played a role in the decrease in hay being made. In recent years, weather has been a limiting factor as well. Too much or too little rain has decreased yields. When the weather cooperates, our region can make some top quality forages.”
Kevin Cox, a corn and soybean farmer in Brazil, Indiana, also raises a small cattle herd on his farm and grows the hay to feed the cattle. He says his first cutting of hay this season was a good hay crop, but is skeptical about a second cut.
“I’m concerned about the potential risk of not getting enough rain to get another cutting,” Cox said.
Too much rain can cause similar headaches for hay growers. The hay shortage of 2019 in both Ohio and Indiana was created by the abundance of wet weather the year before. That year’s hay issue sits fresh in the minds of many farmers. Mike Goodsen of Van Wert County in Ohio calls 2019 the worst hay shortages he’s seen in many years.
“The wet weather of 2018 did affect the quality of my hay,” Goodsen said. “I wasn’t able to see as much hay to other local farmers because of the need to keep backup supplies for my own livestock. The raining conditions that summer made it difficult to find a three-day stretch of dry weather in which to cut and bale hay properly.”
Former Ohio State University forage expert Rory Lewandowski is all too familiar with the affect weather has had on forages across Ohio two years ago. Too much rain can wreak havoc on farmers’ efforts similarly.
“Hay can have between two and five cuttings per year, but with too much wet weather that’s not good news for alfalfa,” Lewandowski said. “Farmers will have stands that will die and not be productive. With grasses we worry about wet saturated soils over a long period of time and this leads to root rot. Plants can suffocate under all this standing water.”
According to the latest Drought Monitor (June 22), about 62 percent of Ohio is experiencing moderate drought conditions. In Indiana, the lower half of that state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with severe drought being experienced in the northwestern portion of the state.
Dr. Beth Hall, director of the Indiana State Climate Office, says “while there were some isolated storms this past week, the precipitation they brought wasn’t enough to alleviate the dryness Indiana is experiencing.
“Warm temperatures, low humidity and little-to-no precipitation suggest that drought conditions are either stable or worsening in most places,” Hall said.
In Kentucky, the Drought Monitor indicates that the lower half the state is abnormally dry while the upper portion adjacent to Ohio is showing signs of moderate drought conditions. Eighty percent of Illinois is experiencing moderate to several drought conditions. The “glove” of Michigan is under moderate drought conditions, while most of Tennessee is abnormally dry.