As certain as the winter wheat crop will die seven times per year is the shortage of hay from February through April.
With that disclaimer out of the way, a Feb. 11 University of Wisconsin Extension Hay Market Demand report and USDA’s Feb. 8 Crop Production report do suggest the hay shortage in 2019 is real, although manageable.
USDA’s report indicated all hay stored on U.S. farms as of Dec. 1, 2018 totaled 79.1 million tons, down 6 percent from Dec. 1, 2017. The amount marked the lowest Dec. 1 hay stocks since the drought of 2012 and the second lowest since 1977.
In Minnesota, Dec. 1, 2018 hay stocks were 2.04 million tons vs. 2.59 million tons on Dec. 1, 2017.
“Hay prices are on a steady-to-strong trend,” according to the Wisconsin report with data compiled by Richard Halopka, Clark County Extension crops and soils agent.
He added, “In Southwest Minnesota, prices were steady with a limited supply of quality hay.”
The Upper Midwest hay price summary for Feb. 11 indicated the following average prices:
Large square over 151 RFV/RFQ – $214 per ton
Large square 125-150 RFV/RFQ – $184 per ton
Large square 103-124 RFV/RFQ – $151 per ton
Large square 87-102 RFV/RFQ – $168 per ton
Halopka added the following comments to his report:
“For Nebraska, hay sold steady this week. Cattlemen have been relying on stalk fields this winter to carry cows, though with calving season beginning plus cold weather many are supplementing hay.
“For Iowa, hay and bedding sales increased this week. Limited quality hay is available at the auctions.
“In South Dakota, quality hay in general is in a limited supply. There was very good demand for hay with sub-arctic temperatures this past week.
“For Missouri, ice was a problem in many areas this week. Supply is light to moderate with steady to firm prices.
“In Wisconsin, prices are strong with demand for all classes of hay. Shortage of quality hay has pushed prices higher in the state. Lower quality hay is coming to market and buyers are lowering their standards to purchase what is available.”
Prices for hay at auction are generally highest in February, March and April, said Tom Bradley, lead auctioneer and land specialist at DreamDirt Farm Real Estate & Auction.
Based out of De Soto, Iowa, DreamDirt team members run monthly hay auctions in Winterset, Iowa in Madison County, and Putnam County, Mo., just across the border from south central Iowa.
“We’re starting to see a little bit more of the supply of hay hit the markets,” Bradley said in a Feb. 19 phone interview. “There is not a whole lot out there, but I think it’s there, and hay producers have hung onto it until these later months.”
Missouri cow/calf operators are needing hay in 2019, he added. Muddy conditions in early January – followed by snow over barely frozen soils have made it almost impossible to graze corn stalks and other residues.
“I’m starting to see in Missouri, there is no advantage to alfalfa over grass hay (prices at the hay auction),” he said. “The grass hay usually runs along right with the alfalfa, and sometimes outsells the alfalfa.”
The hay shortage also comes with a bit of a twist, he added.
“We are seeing $77.50 per corn stalk bale,” he said. “With a very wet fall and early winter, it was hard to bale stalks, and now you have all of this snow extending so far south in late winter. It’s made those bedding products worth a lot more money.”
With spring apparent, producers are willing to pay more for hay and bedding to get by.
“Producers are more optimistic; ‘I’ll get more hay later in the season and be able to bale, but I need 10-20 bales to get me to spring.’ So, they will pay a lot more for it,” Bradley said. “Even in April, we see even higher prices when the grass is green, just because it’s not quite ready for people to kick livestock out on it.”