Hay market remains steady
Despite recent events that may have caused some hay growers to become concerned about their market, industry leaders say quality hay is expected to remain high this fall.
“Our overall conditions around the country are still going to dictate that prices for quality hay are going to remain high,” says Scott Keith of the Wyoming Business Council’s Agribusiness Division. “For the dairy and horse industries there is still a demand for high quality hay, regardless of freight cost or other circumstances.”
The May 27 release of 24 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land initially caused concern among hay producers and associations anticipating a flood in the market.
Despite reports of canceled orders elsewhere in the country, Farm Service Agency (FSA) Wyoming State Executive Director Lois Van Mark says she doubts many farmers and ranchers will fence CRP land rather than buying hay. “Depending on the amount of effort it takes to put the cows onto a piece of CRP land, it might not be worth it to turn them out for only 30 or so days,” she says.
Keith thinks more factors than CRP acreage will affect this year’s hay market. “We’re going to have a number of people harvest hay this year that haven’t put up hay on their smaller meadows for several years because of drought,” he says. “There will be more volume from Wyoming, which will have an impact.”
Keith also says wet conditions across the state early this spring may have affected forage quality for producers who may have cut their hay early, only to have it catch rain. “There will be an abundance of lower-quality hay locally,” he notes.
Livestock numbers are also expected to affect the market. “We’ve got grass this year, and cattle and sheep numbers are down, so whether or not there will be a stronger demand this fall and winter is yet to be seen,” says Keith.
The CRP acreage isn’t officially available for grazing until primary nesting season is over, a date that varies by region across the U.S. Wyoming’s nesting season runs May 15 to July 15 and all haying and grazing must end nationwide on Nov. 10.
“If there’s any drop in price, the percentage for which CRP is responsible will be less because of the other factors this year, like grass and great conditions because of our water situation,” says Keith.
Van Mark says if a producer wants to participate in the haying and grazing program within a CRP contract he needs to contact his local FSA office to sign up. There is a $75 administration fee to modify existing CRP contracts.
Some guidelines within the allowance are the reservation of at least a quarter of CRP acres for wildlife habitat and an approved conservation plan. The most sensitive CRP land, such as filter strips and wetlands, isn’t eligible for haying and grazing. Van Mark says local FSA and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices can provide detailed guidelines to producers.
Producers participating in the haying and grazing will not only utilize the forage – they’ll still be paid in full for the CRP contract. This is the first time CRP acreage has been released for harvest on a nationwide basis, and USDA estimates up to 18 million tons of forage – worth $1.2 billion – could become available.
Currently the Wyoming hay harvest is behind. “The first cutting is going to be later than normal, and a lot of hay isn’t even close to being cut,” says USDA Livestock and Grain Market News Officer-in-Charge Dennis Widga from Torrington. He says the harvest has just started in mid-June, while the first cutting is usually harvested in May.
Keith says the delayed production and harvest of hay could provide a shortage in that some producers may not get their customary fourth cutting.
“Hay producers think the CRP release will be disastrous, but for those putting up quality hay or for those under contracts, the prices will remain significantly high,” says Keith.
CRP haying and grazing details are available at www.fsa.usda.gov/conservation. Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.