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Hay in short supply, but not yet a shortage, officials say


PRINCETON, Ky. — Hay production may be down across the region, but officials say it is too early yet to sound crisis bells.

According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the May Crop Production report for Kentucky showed on-farm hay stocks were down 420,000 tons from the previous year. The same report indicated that “farmers have used 83 percent of their hay stocks since Dec. 1, 2017.”

Another NASS report detailing Illinois’ acreage for June showed a decrease of 4 percent in harvested area of all hay, from 2017 to 2018. Similar decreases were widespread in the region – Indiana saw a decrease from 310,000 tons to 100,000, in 2018, and Iowa’s production nosedived from 630,000 to 360,000 tons.

Despite the numbers, officials say they are not feeling the effects in the field. Chris Teutsch, associate extension professor and forage extension specialist with the University of Kentucky Research and Education Center, said his state is struggling with quality, not quantity.

“Volume-wise, I am not sure that there is a widespread hay shortage,” he said. “The shortage may be for quality hay. It has been difficult making high quality this year, especially this spring, due to frequent rainfall.”

Similarly, Purdue University professor of agronomy and forage extension specialist Keith Johnson pointed to weather as a contributor to Indiana decreases in yield.

“Factors that may have decreased hay yield for many hay producers include early spring cold temperature, slowed growth, alfalfa weevil and potato leafhopper, injury to alfalfa was greater than several years, a few incidences of armyworm on forage grasses, dry weather mid-season in several areas of the state and disease issues caused by excessive rain,” he said.

“I do not think Indiana is in a crisis situation regarding hay supply, but I have heard of yields to date being 25 percent below long-term average yield in northeastern Indiana.”

Farmers who regularly ship hay stocks from other parts of the country are seeing decreases due to transportation issues, according to Sue Arnold, executive director of the National Hay Assoc. (NHA).

“We are not seeing serious shortages in production, but because of transportation costs and the shortage of trucks for transportation, hay is not coming from the western states as readily as it has in the past,” she explained.

For the NHA’s 400 members across the country, weather is also a factor, according to Arnold. “Some parts of the Midwest had a late spring, and this caused the first cutting of hay to be down as much as 40 percent,” she said.

“This is particularly bothersome to a beef farmer who only harvests one crop of hay a year and leaves the rest for pasture; however, for those farmers who baled a second or third cutting, the production was as expected.”

To help combat hay shortages, no matter their severity, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has used a network of producers it dubs the Hay Hotline for more than 20 years. Currently, the Hotline has nearly 30 listings for hay, which can be utilized for anyone in any state, according to the site at

“The Hay Hotline has been utilized by hay contractors, producers and consumers, both in and out of state to connect buyers with sellers,” said Sean Southard, KDA director of communications. “This use increases substantially during periods of hay shortages, but Kentucky’s $600 million forage industry makes it an effective tool even during regular, non-shortage periods.”

According to Southard, the state’s Hay Hotline is unique. “To our knowledge, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is the only state agency in the nation that offers this service.”

Farmers who lack access to a hotline, said Teutsch, should heed some advice to help keep stock available during times of shortage. “Source your hay early to get ahead of the rush this fall and winter,” he warned. “It is always important to establish long-term relationships with hay suppliers.

“This means don’t switch to save a quarter per bale. If you are a loyal and faithful customer, you will go to the top of the list in years where the hay supply is short.”