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Winter U.S. hay inventories lowest since 2012

Progressive Forage Editor Dave Natzke Published on 13 January 2021

If you’re a forage numbers geek, your Christmas arrived on Jan. 12, 2021. That’s the day the USDA released a number of reports covering forages from seed to shed.

The March 1, 2021, issue of Progressive Forage will feature the annual Forage Statistics insert, but here’s a sneak preview of the data.

Hay inventories

All hay stored on U.S. farms as of Dec. 1, 2020, totaled 84 million tons, down 1% from a year earlier. Based on the USDA estimates, this marks the lowest hay inventory of hay stocks on Dec. 1 since the drought of 2012 and second-lowest inventory for that date since 1977.

Hay “disappearance,” a proxy for use, totaled 63.2 million tons for the period May 1-Dec. 1, 2020. That compares to 59.3 million tons during the same period a year earlier. 

The largest increases in hay stocks from one year ago were seen in Kentucky, Texas, Alabama and Minnesota. Largest declines were in Missouri, New York, Nevada and North Dakota. Record-low hay stock levels were estimated in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Among the 24 “major” dairy states listed by the USDA, 13 had more hay compared to a year earlier, with inventories down in 11. At 44.3 million tons, total dairy state dry hay inventories were up 370,000 tons (1%) from Dec. 1, 2019.

Dairy states with largest hay inventory increases compared to a year earlier were Texas, up 800,000 tons, and Minnesota, up 500,000 tons. Decliners were led by New York, where hay stocks were estimated to be down by 600,000 tons, and South Dakota, down 450,000 tons.

New alfalfa seeding

Looking ahead to next year, growers seeded 2.18 million acres of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures during 2020, down 12% from 2019. About 1.77 million acres (80%) of new seeding was concentrated in 22 of the 24 “major” dairy states. New alfalfa seeding acreage in those states was down 180,000 compared to a year earlier. New alfalfa seeding has dropped by about a third in the past dozen years or so; new seeding routinely surpassed 3 million acres per year between 1997 and 2006.

Production of alfalfa and alfalfa-mixture dry hay in 2020 was estimated at 53.1 million tons, down 3% from 2019. Harvested area, at 16.2 million acres, was 3% below 2019. Average yield was estimated at 3.27 tons per acre, down 0.01 ton from 2019. Record-high yields were estimated in California and Idaho. Record-low yield was estimated in Massachusetts. 

Production in all other hay 2020 totaled 73.7 million tons, down less than 1% from the 2019 total. Harvested area, at 36 million acres, was up 1% from 2019. Average yield was estimated at 2.05 tons per acre, down 0.02 ton from 2019. This is the fifth highest yield on record. Record-high yields were estimated in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

Seventeen states were included in a USDA forage estimation program, which measures annual production of forage crops. Converted to 13% moisture, total 2020 all haylage and greenchop production was estimated at 29.3 million tons, of which 18.7 million tons were from alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures. The 17-state total for all forage production was 82.3 million tons. 

Corn silage production was estimated at 138 million tons for 2020, up 3% from the 2019 estimate. Area harvested for silage was estimated at 6.72 million acres, up 2% from 2019. The U.S. corn silage yield was estimated at 20.5 tons per acre, up 0.3 ton from 2019.

Sorghum silage production was estimated at 3.13 million tons, down 22% from 2019. Area harvested for silage was estimated at 239,000 acres, down % from the previous year. Silage yield averaged 13.1 tons per acre, up 1.2 ton per acre from 2019.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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