Forages: By the Numbers

Preliminary outlook: 2009 U.S. dry hay crop slightly larger

USDA’s August crop report indicates U.S. dry hay production will be up slightly in 2009.

Harvest of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures was forecast at 73.0 million tons, up 5% from 2008. Harvested area, at 21.0 million acres, was down 2,000 acres from the previous year’s acreage.

Yields were expected to average 3.48 tons per acre, slightly higher than the 3.32 tons last year. Most states showed an increase or no change in yield, with the exception of Arizona, California, Illinois, New York, Utah and Wisconsin, where small declines were expected.

Production of other hay was forecast at 79.0 million tons, up 4% from last year. Harvested area, at 39.2 million acres, was up 113,000 acres from the previous year.

Yields are expected to average 2.01 tons per acre, up 0.06 tons from last year. Higher moisture levels in the eastern portions of the U.S. and the Pacific Northwest increased yields from last year. However, moisture deficiencies reduced yields in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

USDA traditionally provides estimates for harvested acreage of corn silage, sorghum silage, haylage and greenchop acreage in January following the season’s harvest.

Looking for hay prices?

USDA compiles a weekly report of state and regional hay prices, usually updated every Friday
afternoon. To view the report, visit

Survey: Forage Diversity

In preparation for the October 2009 editions of Western DairyBusiness (WDB) and Eastern DairyBusiness (EDB), the editors surveyed dairy producers on their forage management practices. The summary, in two words: Diversity rules.

First, some pertinent numbers: Herd sizes of WDB producers answering the survey ranged from 70 to 3,000 cows; EDB producers ranged from 52 to 1,050 cows.

Among WDB dairy producers, the average ratio of homegrown to purchased forages was 65% to 35%. Among EDB dairy producers, the average ratio of homegrown to purchased forages was 92% to just 8%.

When it comes to forage storage, bunkers/piles (EDB – 60%; EDB – 80%), and bags (EDB – 60%; WDB – 30%) topped the list. Upright silos showed up on 35% of EDB surveys; 20% on WDB surveys. There was a small sampling of graziers in each region.

When they grow it, they feed it. All EDB and WDB survey respondents utilized 100% of their home-grown forages, with none contracted to others or sold on the open market.

EDB respondents were slightly more likely to harvest their own forages; WDB respondents slightly more likely to utilize a custom harvester, although the differences were small. About 50% of producers in each region utilized both harvest systems.

Challenges to quality: No surprise here – weather, everywhere. To a lesser extent, EDB readers cited availability of labor, harvesting equipment and suitable land; WDB readers cited availability of suitable land.

There’s a hunger for more information on all forage topics, including varieties, soil prep/tillage, pests, manure on forage crops, harvesting equipment, and storage management to maximize quality, including evaluation of preservatives and inoculants. Common theme: maximizing milk production per acre and reducing feed costs, and growing feed using less water and nutrients.

Congratulations to Kevin Schrack, dairy producer from Mill Hall, Pa., who was drawn as the winner of the $100 VISA gift card from all producers completing the online survey.