USDA 2012 forage summaries: Alfalfa hay acreage, harvest lowest in six decades

Two USDA reports released on Jan. 11 provide a glimpse of 2012 U.S. forage production and current stocks. In the case of alfalfa and alfalfa mixture hay, 2012 acreage and production were the lowest in six decades or more, as the drought and acreage competition from grain crops took a toll. As a result, on-farm alfalfa hay stocks are at their lowest level since 1957.

The 2012 Crop Production Summary estimates acreage, yields and total production for hay and other forage crops, as well as corn silage. The January 2013 Crop Production report also estimates hay inventories as of Dec. 1, 2012.


Alfalfa and alfalfa mixture dry hay

Alfalfa and alfalfa mixture dry hay production in 2012 was estimated at 52.0 million tons, down 6% from the Oct. 1 forecast and down 20% from 2011. This was the lowest U.S. production level since 1953. Harvested area, at 17.3 million acres, was 8% less than the Oct. 1 forecast and 10% less than 2011. This was the smallest harvested area since 1948. Average yield was estimated at 3.01 tons per acre, 0.06 ton more than the Oct. 1 forecast, but down 0.39 ton from 2011. 

Compared with last year, alfalfa hay harvested area decreased throughout much of the United States, due to  one of the hottest, driest growing seasons on record. Driven by poor yields across much of the central and northern Great Plains, Midwest and Northern Tier, production decreased 21% or more in 15 of the 42 estimating states. Conversely, yields in the Southwest and southern Great Plains increased or remained unchanged from last year, as precipitation was more widespread when compared with the extreme drought conditions evident in these areas in 2011. 


All other hay

Production of all other dry hay in 2012 totaled 67.8 million tons, up 2% from the Oct. 1 forecast and 3% more than 2011. This was the second lowest United States production since 1998. Harvested area, at 39.0 million acres, was up less than 1% from October and 7% from last year. Average yield was estimated at 1.74 tons per acre, up 0.03 ton from October, but down 0.07 ton from last year. 

Despite unfavorably dry conditions that limited pasture and grass hay growth throughout much of the nation, harvested acreage of other hay increased throughout much of the central and southern United States, as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land was opened for haying. In fact, record highs for harvested acreage were established in Florida and Oklahoma. Elsewhere, declines in acreage evident throughout much of the West, portions of the Corn Belt and in many Atlantic Coast States resulted from hot, dry weather, reductions in livestock inventories, and the conversion of hay fields to plowed land for row crop harvest. Record low harvested acreages were established in Maine, Massachusetts and North Dakota. With the exception of the South, where moisture was more readily available when compared with last year, yields throughout the country decreased from 2011 under oppressive heat and extremely dry conditions. 


Hay stocks on farms 

With lower total hay production, all hay stored on farms on Dec. 1, 2012 totaled 76.5 million tons, down 16% from a year ago, and the lowest Dec. 1 stocks level since 1957. Disappearance from May 1, 2012 - Dec. 1, 2012 totaled 64.7 million tons, compared with 62.7 million tons for the same period a year ago. 

Compared with last year, hay stocks as a percent of production decreased throughout much of the western United States. Prolonged dryness coupled with hot temperatures stifled not only pasture and range growth, but growth of alfalfa fields. As a result, overall hay production was negatively impacted in many states. In addition, livestock producers were forced to feed their herds earlier than normal due to the diminished availability of native feedstuffs. 

Elsewhere, the increase in on-farm stocks as a percent of production across much of the Northern Tier, resulted mostly from producers holding a larger portion of their 2011 hay crop in storage due to an unusually mild winter and earlier availability of spring pastures. Similarly, hay stock levels were higher than last year in many Atlantic Coast States. 


New seedings of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures

Growers seeded 2.39 million acres of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures during 2012, up 3% from 2011. This represents the first increase in seeded area since 2005; however, it was still the second smallest seeded area of alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures for the U.S. 



Eighteen states participate in the USDA’s forage estimation program, which measures annual production of forage crops, with an emphasis on total alfalfa production. Haylage and greenchop production is converted to 13% moisture and combined with dry hay production to derive the total forage production.

The total 2012 all haylage and greenchop production for the 18 states was 26.5 million tons, of which 17.6 million tons are from alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures. The total all haylage production was down 17% from 2011. The 18-state total for all forage production was 79.6 million tons, a decrease of 11% from last year. Of this, 42.5 million tons were produced from alfalfa and alfalfa mixtures. 


Corn, sorghum silage

Corn silage production in 2012 was estimated at 113 million tons in 2012, up 4% from 2011 and represents the highest production in the United States since 1982. The U.S. silage yield was estimated at 15.4 tons per acre, down 3.0 tons from 2011. Area harvested for silage was estimated at 7.38 million acres, up 24 percent from a year ago. 

Sorghum silage production in 2012 was estimated at 4.14 million tons, up 80% from 2011. Area cut for silage was estimated at 363,000 acres, up 62% from the previous year. Silage yields averaged 11.4 tons per acre, up 1.1 tons per acre from 2011. 


To see USDA January 2013 Crop Production report, visit

To see USDA’s 2012 Annual Crop Production report, visit