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The U.S. is not the only dog in town: U.S. Forage Export Council update

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 03 December 2018

Competition is dialing into the export hay market, said U.S. Forage Export Council (USFEC) Director John Szczepanski at the California Alfalfa and Forage Association Symposium in Reno, Nevada.

“We’re not the only dog in town,” he said, citing other countries that have become players not to be ignored in the hay export market – not only Canada and Australia, which have always been strong players, but Spain, Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia as well. Hay supplies are coming from every corner of the world. “Argentina, which we would have laughed at a few years ago [as being a hay export player], is now not laughable, as they’ve become a forage exporter of note,” he said.

Szczepanski noted agricultural systems around the world are becoming more sophisticated in machinery and practices, and the U.S. competitive edge of progress is not as wide a gap as it once was.


Japan, which has been a mature export market for some time, commands 35 percent of the total “other” forages market and remains the number one export destination for these products. Total exports today to Japan are about the same as 10 years ago (with fluctuations in between), representing $400 million. Japan, Szczepanski said, is very concerned with the chemical residue clopyralid coming into the country. This chemical, used in the U.S. on some forages as pre- and post-emergent herbicide, is consumed by cattle and doesn’t break down easily. In Japan these manures are taken sometimes directly to vegetable fields without maturing, which has damaged their valuable vegetable crops. The Japanese government is paying more attention to this, watching forage exports bringing this in.

Szczepanski says the remedy for this is to receive support from growers, asking them to follow label directions, which direct the product should not be exported in the same year it was applied. Growers need to know which products contain clopyralid (Clean Slate, Curtail, Confront, Colt, Lontrel, Redeem, Stinger, SureStart, WideMatch, TrippleFLEX, Millennium Ultra, Reclaim, etc.).


Korea represents about $200 million in export sales and is a consistent export market destination. Korea imports a significant amount of fescue and straw (helping the Oregon market especially), and represents about 16 percent of the export market.


China represents 24 percent of the total export hay market, is number two overall and number one in alfalfa exports. The tariff trade war has affected exports, but putting a number on that value has been a challenge. Szczepanski said USFEC represents some of the biggest exporters to China, and through an internal survey, they’re still trying to quantify the direct impact. Indications are that about 35 percent of the exports to China have been affected. During the trade war, China is looking at using domestic product, but in a tight market for supplies, Szczepanski warned they will look to alternative sources, representing the most serious risk to U.S. exporters. Once a customer moves to a different feeding system and gets used to it, it’s difficult to get them to move back.

United Arab Emirates

While in 2009-10, United Arab Emirates (UAE) represented 20 percent of the market, today this market represents less than $100 million. Szczepanski said while U.S. exporters have always prided themselves on exporting the “best” products, sometimes in a tight market “best in the world” isn’t needed – they just need something “good enough.” This seems to be the case in UAE. Eastern Europe is exporting more hay to the Middle East, even if it’s not always top quality hay.

Saudi Arabia

Although much has been said about the potential to provide hay to Saudi Arabia with their government-imposed restrictions on irrigation, today this market represents 13 percent of the total export picture, largely due to one specific company (not part of USFEC). As recently as 2014, Saudi Arabia represented 1 percent of the export market.

Emerging markets

Szczepanski reminded growers that China only became a large player 10 years ago and new markets can be developed yet. He noted India as an example, with 135 million cows and 125 million buffalo. While the dairy market in India is mostly made up of small dairies, there are many new, large, high-quality dairies. “Remember,” Szczepanski said, “it only takes a sliver of progressive dairies that creates a market of opportunity.” USFEC will send six to 10 forage exporters to a tradeshow in Mumbai this spring to try and open some markets. “It’s not just putting out fires in China with tariffs,” he said, “but looking ahead to new opportunities in the future.”

Other efforts of USFEC include working with USDA and government contacts for progress in China, efforts to mitigate clopyralid risk in Japan and refining a credit-reporting system with legal protection to protect the U.S. export industry. USFEC represents 34 member exporters operating in the western U.S., representing 90 percent of U.S. hay exports. Szczepanski emphasized that the impact of the forage export industry is an economic powerhouse with multiplying impact in the labor sector.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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