No Missouri hay

Jul 13, 2012

The past few weeks have seen the supplies of hay in Missouri drop significantly.

In a weekly summary, the Jefferson City, MO, hay market report said hay had “basically become nonexistent” for purchase.

The drought is playing a large part in the hay shortage. Efforts to alleviate the pain felt by ranchers may be too little too late to save the Missouri herd.

As of July 10’s U.S. Drought Monitor, 82 percent of Missouri is laboring under severe drought conditions. In its July 8 “Crop Progress and Conditions” report, the Missouri Field Office of USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) found pasture, stock water and hay conditions have suffered extensively from the drought.

The NASS report indicated 87 percent of pastures were in poor to very poor conditions. Stock water supplies stood at 70 percent short or very short. Hay and other roughage supplies were 65 percent short or very short with the majority of the remaining 35 percent standing at only adequate. To add to the poor conditions of pasture and hay, the vast majority of Missouri’s alfalfa hay and other grass hay has already been cut a month earlier than normal.

The lack of hay and quality grazing pastures has driven up the cost of what hay is available. Bales passed over as too pricy in prior weeks were snapped up at asking prices more recently. In its most recent weekly hay report, supreme alfalfa hay was going for $225-275 (prices per ton for 1,200to 1,500-pound round bales, f.o.b.). Good to premium Bromegrass was selling for $160- 200, good quality Bermuda grass hay was $100-175, and good quality mixed grass hay was $95-140.

Brent Haden, interim executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, summed the situation up well.

“We’re dry. We’re short on hay. Prices have jumped like they did in the Southwest last year. Our starting hay stocks were a little bit better than the Southwest, but the first cut was a bit mixed. What we’re going to miss out on is a good second cut.”

The pasture situation in Missouri has forced many ranchers to feed hay to pastured cattle. This, coupled with the hay shortage, is not only expensive, but has the potential to see many ranchers without enough feed for their herds when winter comes.

Several efforts are underway to help Missouri farmers and ranchers survive the current conditions. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has requested the Farm Service Agency (FSA) conduct damage assessments to determine the extent of the damage caused by the drought. If FSA finds conditions sufficiently depressed, individual counties could be declared primary disaster areas. This would be a first step towards allowing eligible farmers and ranchers to apply for federal assistance.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture has also created an online directory for ranchers seeking to purchase hay. The directory provides sellers’ locations, product information and contact information, and can be found at

On a larger scale, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst sent a letter to Missouri’s congressional delegation urging that the House act quickly on the much-anticipated Farm Bill. The following comes from Hurst’s letter:

“Livestock producers whose hay inventories were short entering 2012 because of last year’s drought are especially concerned. Where there were plentiful supplies of hay, a considerable amount was sold to farmers and ranchers in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas in 2011, thus the overall supply across the state was down at the start of the year. Some farmers were fortunate to have a good first cutting of hay this season, but this was not the case in all areas.

“We urge you to work with your colleagues to impress upon House leadership the importance of the passing a farm bill as soon as possible, especially since there is an opportunity to reinstate disaster aid programs for non-program crops.”

Many ranchers are taking matters into their own hands by selling cattle to feedlots earlier than otherwise because there simply isn’t enough feed to go around.

“It’s the same pressures we saw in Texas last year,” said Haden. “And selling cattle is attractive right now. It’s a self-perpetuating machine, really, just driving down herd sizes, both nationally and locally. We’re continuing to lose cattle north of the 50, and I don’t see that stopping until corn prices come down.”

Haden also pointed out there are more pressures than just drought-stricken pastures and scarce hay prompting selling of cattle. The high price of corn and the fertility of Missouri soil make corn an attractive crop for those who have flatter, crop-friendly land. He also cited the aging agricultural demographic and the culture of younger generations not interested in “going out and cowboying” as their parents and grandparents had been. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor