Hay in the Near Future: Need-To-Know Trends and Statistics

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Published: 18th November 2014
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Take a look at the statistics at the bottom on hay for the last ten years from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. My first impression after looking through those numbers was one of astonishment. It's one thing to know that hay is currently ranked fifth for all agricultural commodities in the U.S., but it is another thing to try to wrap one's head around the millions of acres of hay that produces millions of tons of hay, which is worth billions annually. Hay is definitely serious business not only based on these staggering numbers, but also for the farmers who rely on hay sales for the livelihood and the farms, ranches, horse stables, and other business that feed their animals hay bale after hay bale all year long.

Another fact to consider is the Great Recession of 2008. That financial calamity seemingly did not have much of an impact on the number of acres harvested nor the number of tons of hay that were produced. There however might be a connection with hay production based on billions of dollars, which dropped by $3.9 billion (21 percent) from $18.6 billion to $14.7 billion. Such a drastic change might have been a godsend for those businesses trying to feed their horses and livestock, but it put a big dent in the pocketbooks of farmers who grew hay.

That financial shock has had a lasting trend, which is by no means a good one either. Since 2008, the number of harvested acres has decreased steadily from 60.2 million in 2008 to 56.4 million in 2013. That's a loss of 3.8 millions acres that no longer produce hay bales. Even more telling is the tonnage which has gone from 146.3 million in 2008 to 119.9 in 2012 (a 18 percent drop of 26.4 million).

It must be noted that acres harvested and hay production by tonnage had been decreasing for years prior to 2008 while the production of hay in dollars had been increasing prior to 2008. And hay production in dollars recovered last year back to its 2008 high of $18.6 billion. So, now we have a situation of record breaking prices for hay combined with a scarcity of hay as the supply slowly spirals downward. It would be comforting to say this is just a cycle and that production of hay will increase, which would bring prices back down to more reasonable levels. Unfortunately, the current agricultural and financial environment does not seem to suggest such a reversal anytime soon. For the near future, the problem faced by those of us who purchase and need hay will only get worse.

This might be a blessing for hay growers at least for now. So, what are hay buyers to do? Well, there are options to make the situation less painful for your bank account.

Hay Bales | Forage Feed Store | American Western


1) Avoid Waste: This means storing hay properly inside or covered with tarps so that it will keep for as long as you need it. This also entails avoid buying improperly harvested or stored hay that is dusty, moldy, weathered, or rained on. Avoiding bad hay will ensure that you don't have to throw away hay after realizing that it's as rotten as people who sold it to you.

2) Quality: If you're going to pay for hay, you should consider it's quality because you get what you pay for. If a person uses nutritionally lacking hay, it will take a lot more to keep your horses or livestock healthy than if you feed them quality hay. Cheap hay can be enticing, but it can end up costing you more because your animals will need to eat a lot more of it in addition to the risk and costs of cheap hay causing malnutrition, sickness, or even death in your animals.

3) Quantity: If you have the ability to store a large numbers of hay bales, then buy in bulk. Paying a lot for a semi-load of hay might seem expensive because it's a large sum of money all at once. However, semi-loads or similar are less expensive in the long run rather than buying in small batches on a regular basis. Buying in bulk gives you room to get a lower prices just like you would if you shop at a store like Costco or Sam's Club.

4) Timing: Avoid wait int to buy hay until you're in disparate need of more bales. Find a supplier early one and get your order in for hay ahead of time. This will give you the chance to research prices and to hopefully find someone to buy from consistently, which reduces stress and long-term costs.

5) Picking a Supplier: Buying hay from your neighbor is the neighborly thing to do, but it might not be financially sound. If your neighbor has the lowest price, then go for it. But if prices are lower elsewhere in your state or even out-of-state, then consider purchasing from farms, co-ops, and hay suppliers that have a large inventory and variety of hay year round. So, take a look at prices in your locality, then elsewhere in your state, and then a few states away. A general guide for this is that hay is less expensive the further south it is located.

While many of us wait for a more reasonable and stable hay market, I wish all of you good luck with you forage needs!

Hay Bales | Forage Feed Store | American Western


Acres Harvested (in millions)

2013: 56.4
2012: 56.3
2011: 55.7
2010: 59.9
2009: 59.8
2008: 60.2
2007: 61.0
2006: 60.6
2005: 61.6
2004: 61.9
2003: 63.4

Hay Production (measured in billions)

2012: $18.6
2011: $18.3
2010: $14.7
2009: $14.7
2008: $18.6
2007: $16.8
2006: $13.6
2005: $12.5
2004: $12.2
2003: $12.0

Hay Production (measured in millions of tons)

2012: 119.9
2011: 131.2
2010: 145.6
2009: 147.7
2008: 146.3
2007: 146.9
2006: 140.8
2005: 150.5
2004: 158.1
2003: 157.4

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