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2017 national forage review

Progressive Forage Editor Dave Natzke Published on 01 March 2018

Where does your state rank in national hay prices?

With U.S. average hay prices ending 2016 at 70-month lows, presumably there was nowhere to go but up. However, it took until spring for prices to thaw out.

Significant revisions in final USDA 2016 alfalfa and hay acreage estimates, along with an 11 percent acreage reduction in new alfalfa seedings, did nothing to boost prices as the new year began. A pickup in buyer interest in early February also failed to spring life into hay markets, and alfalfa hay prices continued lower in January and February 2018.

Alfalfa hay prices started to improve in March, with U.S. averages rising about $31 per ton between January and May to reach $157 per ton, before plateauing in June and settling in a narrow range through November.
In contrast, 2017 average prices for other hay peaked in April at $131 per ton and then settled back to prices similar to the end of 2016.

As the harvest season ended and the 2017 hay crop was tucked away in sheds and stacks, growing-season factors took a back seat to domestic and foreign demand in driving hay prices. The October 2017 U.S. average price paid to alfalfa hay producers at the farm level was $152 per ton, up $3 from September and $17 more than a year earlier. The October 2017 U.S. average price for other hay moved off a 12-month low and was estimated at $118 per ton, up $5 per ton from September.

Production and inventories

Notable changes in acres and tonnage produced unfolded across all forage products in 2017.

  • All dry hay: 2017 production was estimated at 131 million tons, down 3 percent from the revised 2016 total. Area harvested was estimated at 53.8 million acres, up 1 percent from 2016. The average yield, at 2.44 tons per acre, was down 0.08 ton from the previous year.

  • Alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures: Production in 2017 was estimated at 55.1 million tons, down 5 percent from the 2016 total. Harvested area, at 16.6 million acres, was 2 percent below the previous year. Average yield was estimated at 3.32 tons per acre, down 0.13 ton from 2016.

  • Other hay: Production in 2017 totaled 76.4 million tons, down less than 1 percent from the revised 2016 total. Harvested area, at 37.2 million acres, was up 2 percent from the previous year. Average yield was estimated at 2.05 tons per acre, down 0.05 ton from the previous year’s revised record high.

  • Total forage: In 2017, 17 states were included in the USDA forage estimation program, which measures annual production of forage crops. Haylage and greenchop production was converted to 13 percent moisture and combined with dry hay production to derive the total forage production.
    The 17-state total for all forage production was 86.7 million tons. Of this total, 44 million tons were produced from alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures. The total 2017 all haylage and greenchop production for the 17 states was 30.5 million tons, of which 20 million tons were from alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures.

  • Corn silage: Production was estimated at 128.4 million tons for 2017, up 2 percent from 2016 and up slightly from the previous high set in 2014. Area harvested for silage was estimated at 6.43 million acres, up 4 percent from a year ago and the most acreage devoted to corn silage since 2012. Average yield was estimated at 19.9 tons per acre, down 0.4 ton from 2016 and the lowest average since 2013.

  • Sorghum silage: Production was estimated at 3.77 million tons, down 10 percent from 2016 and the smallest harvest since 2011. Area harvested for silage was estimated at 284,000 acres, down 5 percent from the previous year and also the smallest harvested area since 2011. Silage yield averaged 13.3 tons per acre, down 0.7 tons per acre from 2016. One footnote: Data for Arizona, the fourth-largest sorghum silage-producing state in 2015, was discontinued for 2016-17.

  • New seedings of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures: At 2.21 million acres, acreage newly seeded to alfalfa in 2017 were down about 3 percent (58,000 acres) from 2016 and the lowest acreage devoted to new seeding since USDA started releasing estimates two decades ago. New alfalfa seeding routinely surpassed 3 million acres per year between 1997 and 2006.

To see how your state ranked in U.S. forage production, see the stats poster here.

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