Drought hits hay producers

Oct 29, 2010
by DTN

While some areas of the U.S. are experiencing drought conditions that have dried up pastures and forced livestock producers to feed hay weeks earlier than usual, the overall outlook for hay supplies does not seem to be quite as severe.

Bruce Anderson, professor of agronomy and forage specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said hay quantities should not be an issue this winter. Surplus moisture at the beginning of the summer may have even led to more hay available than in recent years.

“We’ve seen some relatively good tonnage, but the quality and the distribution geographically have not been very uniform. There won’t be an overall shortage of hay, but there will be some severe local shortages in drought-affected areas,” Anderson said. “There will be a generalized shortage of dairy-quality hay all around. There has not been the tonnage of high-quality hay put up this year as what we are normally able to acquire, so there will be fairly tight supplies.”

Anderson said he believes hay prices will hold fairly steady throughout the winter, except for producers in areas where hay is in short supply. Livestock producers in droughtaffected areas will need to contend with higher prices, especially if they must truck hay in from other areas.

Raymond Bricker, former president of the National Hay Association and hay producer near Salem, OH, said producers in northeast Ohio have some of the best crops ever, as compared to southern Ohio where pockets of dry areas are evident.

Even dairy-quality hay is plentiful in Bricker’s area.

Bricker said that many of his contacts who sell hay in other states tell him they are not getting calls for hay from great distanc- es away.

“I talked ta to a big hay dealer in the Yankton, SD, area recently who grows 3,000 000 acres of hay,” Bricker said. “He said the majority of the loads he has sold recently have been to buy- ers within 150 miles.”

But even though the na- tional outlook for hay seems to be plentiful, pastures in some areas of the U.S. have dried up earlier than usual.

States in the eastern Corn Belt, the Ohio River Valley, and even some states east and south of those regions have drought conditions.

Exceptional Exce drought pat- terns are being witnessed in the Delta, into the east- ern Mi Midwest and the Ohio River Valley area, said Tel- vent DTN Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino.

“These areas usually ben- efit from periodic rain events and good Gulf inflow, but things have really shut down there since the middle of August,” Palmerino said. “We’re now looking at soil moisture levels that are run- ning between 90 and 100 percent short to very short over much of that Ohio Riv- er Valley and on down into Kentucky, and Tennessee and the Delta as well.”

The National Drought Monitor reported last week that Illinois and Indiana are both experiencing deteriorating drought conditions across most of their states. Northern Illinois has deficits of between 4 inches and 6 inches of rain, based on rainfall totals over the past 90 days, and in southern areas of the state, moderate drought is taking hold. Some areas of Indiana have been classified as having extreme drought with little soil moisture in the top few feet of soil.

Other states are suffering as well, according to crop weather reports from the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.

The worst hit states for dry top soil conditions were Kentucky, which reported that 98 percent of its top soils were classified as very short or short of moisture; Indiana, with 92 percent; Ohio, 64 percent; Tennessee, 63 percent; and Illinois, 62 percent.

Indiana: Dry conditions Most of Indiana has experienced dry conditions for an extended period, according to Keith Johnson, extension forage specialist at Purdue University.

“We’ve had less than a half inch of rain in the last month. For Indiana, that’s dry,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that forecasts for rain this weekend will materialize.”

Johnson advised livestock producers in his state to begin to take an inventory of what hay they do have, then develop strategies on whether more hay needs to be purchased, or whether it’s necessary to cull herds.

“Producers need to take the time to evaluate their situation and be the first to purchase hay, not looking around in February and March when prices will be much higher,” Johnson said.

Producers have some other options as well, Johnson said, such as limiting feeding, supplementing rations with alternative ingredients such as distillers grains or soy hulls, or grazing corn residue in fields.

He also suggested that producers could consider replacing old, worn-out hay feeders as some of the newly-designed feeders can reduce losses by as much as 10 percent.

Severe drought in Kentucky

About 50 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are experiencing severe drought conditions, according to Garry Lacefield, extension forage specialist at the University of Kentucky.

“Our pastures have been pretty well brown for several weeks and are, by and large, unproductive. Some livestock producers here have had to feed hay for weeks,” he said. “We were hoping for some fall pasture, but with little precipitation forecast until possibly some time next week, there is little hope of seeding anything.”

But despite the drought affecting so much of Kentucky, hay supplies are holding out and producers are coping well, already having experienced drought in two of the last four years, especially in 2008.

“We have a better hay supply now than we did in 2008, thanks to a good first harvest and some carryover from last year,” Lacefield said. “Cattlemen are more resilient than they were two years ago and know the resources available to them.”

No hay in Virginia

Drought has affected some eastern states as well. Keith Turner, feed division manager of Rockingham Cooperative who custom feeds dairy-replacement heifers and beef cows near Harrisonburg, VA, said he has been feeding substantial qualities of hay already.

“Our first cutting of grass hay was only about 55 percent of the five-year average,” he said. “Our second cutting hay was almost nonexistent and we had no subsequent cuttings.”

Turner said he has already fed more than 600 4-foot by 5-foot round bales by Oct. 1 and is now feeding fibered byproducts to stretch forages, such as midds pellets, corn gluten feed pellets, wet brewers grain, peanut hulls, ground straw, shredded corn stalk, even poultry litter. Turner said some producers are using liquid feed supplements or liquid sugar byproducts such as off-food grade corn syrup and adding them to poor-quality forages to make them more palatable.

With no local hay available in Turner’s area of the country, hay must be brought in from other states, which pushes prices up because of shipping costs. Producers in drought areas will either have to decide to buy more expensive hay or cull livestock, Turner said, adding that he had about 250 heifers mid-summer, but expects to liquidate down to 150 head by December.

“Some very difficult management decisions will have to be made here in this part of the country. What it boils down to is: what will it take to survive?” he said. “You can buy hay, but can you afford to feed it? Availability and affordability are two different things.”

Ohio not so bad

Ohio has been experiencing some dry weather, but not the drought felt by other areas in the Ohio River Valley, according to Mark Sulc, forage extension specialist at Ohio State University.

Sulc said Ohio had good rainfall through the first half of summer, so much that some areas were wet much of summer. Other areas, including northwest Ohio, had isolated pockets that were dry all summer.

While the first cutting was a little tricky working around all the rains received, subsequent cuttings were good, with the fourth cutting a bit smaller than normal. Still, Sulc said he does not expect a huge shortage of hay in the state, only in isolated areas.

“Some are feeding hay earlier, but I don’t anticipate a huge problem with a deficit of hay,” he said. “There should be plenty around for winter.” — DTN