By Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Two years of drought have taken a huge toll on U.S. hay production. In the recently released USDA Annual Crop Production Summary, total U.S. hay production in 2012 was 120 million tons, down nearly 18 percent from the 2006-2010 average. This is the lowest U.S. hay production total in data going back to 1974.
This follows the 2011 hay production total of 131 million tons, down nearly 10 percent from the same five year average. The impact of the drought was significantly different in the two years. In 2011, the states of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas all had production decreases of over 30 percent compared to the 2006-2010 average, with Texas and Oklahoma having over 57 percent decreases compared to that five year average. In 2011, these three states accounted for 78 percent of total decrease in U.S. hay production.
By contrast, in 2012, eight of the top 30 hay producing states were down in excess of 30 percent of the five year average. These states represented a wide swath of the center of the country and included the states of Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Wisconsin. These eight states accounted for 61 percent of the decrease from the five year average with a number of other states also showing significant decreases. A total of 21 states saw 2012 hay production down more than 20 percent from the five year average. Hay production in Oklahoma and Texas was up significantly from 2011 but was still down more than 30 percent from the 2006-2010 average.
The combination of reduced hay production and increased hay feeding due to drought the past two years leaves the U.S. with severely depleted forage supplies. Total U.S. December 1 hay stocks were 76.5 million tons, the lowest December 1 stock level in data back to 1974. This stock level is down 25.5 percent from the 2006-2010 five year average. The reduction is severe in many states. Among the top 30 hay producing states, Arkansas and Michigan had December 1 stock levels down 55 percent from the 2006-2010 average. Additionally, the states of Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming all had December 1 stock levels down more 40 percent from the five year average. Another five states including Arizona, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas all had December 1 hay stock levels down more than 30 percent from the five average stock level. December 1 hay stocks were down between 20 and 30 percent in eight more states including Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Utah. In fact, among the top 30 hay producing states only the states of Mississippi, New York and Virginia had December 1 hay stocks greater than the 2006-2010 average level.
Pasture conditions in most regions are similarly poor. With the final pasture and range condition report at the end of October, 15 states had more than 60 percent of pastures in poor or very poor condition and another five states had 40-60 percent poor to very poor pasture conditions. Anecdotal indications are that crop aftermath, especially corn stalks, have been heavily used this winter to provide critical feed resources for cattle.
The latest Climate Prediction Center forecast for drought conditions indicates little improvement in much of the country through the forecast period to the end of April. If drought conditions extend into spring the impact on cattle is likely to be immediately severe given that forage resources across much of the country are critically low. This, combined with water shortages for livestock is some regions, will lead to another significant round of cow herd liquidation beginning in the second quarter of the year unless drought conditions moderate.