Carryover hay supplies tight with 2019 season off to slow start

Hay producers in East Texas found a brief window to get pastures cut, cured and baled before storms this weekend. Many producers weren’t so lucky and continue to deal with delays. 

Texas’ carryover hay supplies are low, and production is off to a slow start due to spring rain delays, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

David Anderson, AgriLife Extension economist in College Station, said a cold winter in 2017 and drought conditions in 2018 led to declining hay supplies. Texas hay supplies are 50 percent lower than they were this time in 2017, according to the May 1 Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association hay stocks report.

“Producers used up a lot of hay to get through winter 2017, and drought hindered production this last growing season,” he said. “Then you had a long, wet winter for a lot of the state’s production areas. It’s no wonder we’ve seen declines.”

Despite the declines, Anderson said hay stocks are better now than in 2018. But supplies are also 18 percent below Texas’ 10-year average.

“Those years include 2006-2007, which were dry years and of course major drought years of 2012 and 2013,” he said. “So that indicates some really thin supplies.”

Prices around Texas throughout the winter reflected low supplies. In a Texas Crop and Weather Report from July 2018, Anderson said round bales that sold for $50-$65 in early July 2017 were selling for $70-$90.

AgriLife Extension agent reports in some areas of Texas reported prices beyond $100 per round bale later that year.

Hay inventories are also tight, down more than 50 percent, in surrounding states -- Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri -- compared to 2017.

Short hay supplies statewide are compounded by demand from a growing beef cattle herd. Texas’ herd is now 4.65 million head, up almost 750,000 since the major drought ended.

So far, too much rain has hindered producers’ ability to maximize production via fertilization and weed control, but Anderson is optimistic the moisture will translate into a bumper crop for 2019.

Vanessa Corriher-Olson, AgriLife Extension forage specialist in Overton, said she worries the delays may be too much for hay producers to overcome over the season.

The first cutting of hay, to clear cool-season forages, especially volunteer ryegrass, typically is done by April, she said. Many producers in Southeast and East Texas are just now cutting and baling the first cutting. Some still can’t access their pastures because of soggy conditions.

The first cutting is important to clear the pasture canopy to promote Bermuda grass emergence and reduce competition for soil nutrients, moisture and sunlight, she said.

“Because it’s late May, we may not get the first cutting of Bermuda grass until late June,” she said. “That fact, unfortunately, could lead to lower hay production over the growing season as a whole.”

Corriher-Olson said other areas in the state may have fared better than Southeast and East Texas, and that overall Texas’ soil moisture levels are better at this point in the year than almost a decade. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Seasonal Drought Outlook showed Texas completely clear of drought conditions.

The 90-day outlook was also promising regarding moisture for the state.

But Corriher-Olson said more than anything, hay producers need sunshine and the ability to access fields.

“The biggest challenge for producers now is getting into their fields to fertilize or treat weeds, to cut and bale or all of the above,” she said. “They need dry conditions to do that. It takes three days to cut, windrow and bale hay, and high humidity makes that more difficult. That will continue to be a challenge if we receive intermittent rains into July.”

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