Hay Yields And Forage Decrease Are Widespread

Fodder for Thought

Mild winter and early spring cuts hay yields in many areas. How's yours?

Published on: May 31, 2012

What started out as a less than ideal spring growing season is continuing to bring headaches to forage growers across the nation.

Here in my state of Kentucky, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist Ray Smith reports that many hay growers across the state are bringing in lower-than-normal first cutting yields.

These hay yield decreases are attributed to a number of factors. The unusually mild winter and the higher-than-normal temperatures in early spring which I spoke of in an earlier post caused many forages to mature more quickly. Growth patterns of plants were further affected by the drastic temperature swings and late frosts in many parts of the country. Smith’s explanations for the lower hay yields and forage yeilds are a lack of rain and lack of fertilizer due to high costs of nitrogen.

Further discussion with other hay growers from states like Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania show a similar pattern in hay yields across the country. Surprisingly enough, USDA reported 6% higher than expected hay stocks remaining on U.S. farms as of May 1st. This is due mainly to lower than expected feeding of hay from December through April, most likely caused by the ability of livestock producers to begin grazing in light of mild winter and early spring weather.

Currently the US Drought Monitor reports a large portion of the U.S. is classified in a status of moderate to exceptional drought. Even parts of Western Kentucky are under “severe” drought status. With this inconsistent rainfall, one can only speculate that yields for second cutting hay crops in these regions will also be less than desirable.

Will these low hay yields ultimately lead to a hay shortage in upcoming months? It’s hard to say. But if growing conditions do not improve soon growers may very well be facing some hard decisions.

I’d like to know how things are in your part of the country. Are hay yields above, below, or about normal? Do you anticipate the need to purchase extra hay to supplement lower yields? If you mainly graze your forage, are you noticing slower plant growth cycles? How are you adjusting your rotations to compensate?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    My farm in Central Pennsylvania has 130 acres in orchard grass. I just harvested the first field of 15.5 acres and to avoid the hay getting rained on I ended up baling 127 round bales that were 4x4 balage. They estimated a dry bale wieght of 660 lbs each. I believe my other fields have more yeild than this one. The hay was baled on 5-27-2013 and was fertilized with 3 ton of chicken layer manure per acre. We got rain and cool temperatures so far. The man that did the wrapping said his fields so far have been producing extra hay this year. Looking forward the seeing how the yields hold up this year. If I calculated right, it came out to around 2.7 ton per acre for the 1st cutting.

  2. HarleyRidingLady says:

    This subject needs to be revisited now that all the hay should be in. I'm seeing in NE Ohio that hay yields are maybe 50% of what they've been previously. Yet the cost of hay has tripled in some cases.

  3. Anonymous says:

    What really sticks out to me is the number of areas under a long term drought in the Southern and Western regions. Large areas of range land will take much longer to recover in these areas. So not only is the hay crop affected here in the East, but summer grazing just won't be there in summer areas once again. Then we have states like Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, and New Mexico where 100% of those states are already experiencing drought conditions.