Read the current Progressive Forage digital edition

Crunching the numbers

FG Editor Lynn Olsen Published on 31 January 2011

I have to confess, I’m not a person who enjoys numbers. I’m pretty good at balancing the checkbook and setting up budgets for our home, but would much rather make a scrapbook page or play the piano.

But at work, every year at this time we compile the annual U.S. forage statistics poster that gives an overview of forage crop production during the last 12 months.

As you can see, there are lots and lots of numbers. So, as you might imagine, it’s not my favorite task.

But when we’re finally finished with the manual entry part of the project, I can start to see a picture unfold. When you begin sorting the data and putting it together in different ways, there really is a lot you can learn.

Are there certain areas of the country where forage production is increasing or decreasing? Does that correspond to any other trends in agriculture (an increase or decrease in the number of dairy cows, for instance)?

Did weather trends in the past year have any influence on acres planted and harvested? Or was it influences from other crops and markets?

The people that really like to “dig in” and analyze the numbers take things a step further. They combine data with some of their personal knowledge and observations and then use that information to make future decisions.

I appreciate those kind of people because they sometimes help me see things in a different light. I hope you will enjoy reading some expert opinions about where the forage industry is headed in 2011 in this issue. Do you agree or disagree with them? What do you predict for the coming year?

I recently heard from a forage producer in Wyoming. He wrote:

“While reading your market reports I discovered that your prices for Region 7 were at best $20 to $30 per ton too low and your demand reports were way off. In the beginning of December demand for hay skyrocketed.

The feedlots in the region (when I say region I am talking about Region 7 and also Eastern Colorado east of I-25) started buying large amounts of alfalfa hay and quickly began realizing that hay was in shorter supply than first thought.

“The price of utility hay and fair-quality hay jumped $15 to $20 per ton in the matter of a week and has continued to rise slowly. It is very hard to locate any sizeable stocks in any size bale.

The good to supreme alfalfa is also in short supply because the buyers in the eastern states have been in the market for several months paying $20 to $30 per ton more than our regional markets.All of this has caused a mad scramble for alfalfa.”

I have heard similar experiences from others in the past few weeks, in many areas of the country. Weather and availability, in particular, are playing a big role on prices right now. We can report numbers to give you an idea of where things are and maybe even where they are headed, but in the end you are the best one to know your market and your customers.

We do our best to provide you with timely, accurate information, but things can turn so quickly in production agriculture. Hopefully you have “crunched” your own numbers and are keeping an eye on your own bottom line.

I encourage you to look at both the big picture (e.g. What crop should I plant this year?) and the details (e.g. Should I fertilize my corn at planting time?). Have a firm understanding of your fixed costs and what your goals are for the coming year.

Then, as the unexpected comes your way, you will be in a much better position to be able to make decisions about what to do next and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

Interestingly enough, when it comes right down to it, lots of things are about numbers, even some of my favorite things. If I don’t measure and cut my paper correctly, my scrapbook layout doesn’t look very proportionate.

And if I don’t count the numbers in a measure of music while playing the piano, things don’t sound very good. So maybe I am a numbers person after all. Maybe I just didn’t want to admit it.  FG


Lynn Olsen
Progressive Forage Grower Editor