Farm Talk

June 26, 2012

Weather, grass, and the hay market

by Whitney Wiegel
CNHI

Parsons, Kansas — Dry weather during the spring and early summer of 2012 has had mixed effects on Missouri hay producers. On the bright side, the dry weather has provided hay producers with relatively wide windows of opportunity to cut, rake, and bale their hay crop. Generally, dry weather results in a greater number of available field days during which hay producers can make hay. Having a relatively large number of field days puts less pressure on farmers who, in many years, have to either rush to get hay put up between frequent rains or wait until rains become less frequent, by which time grass has often matured past its optimum growth stage. In either case, the quality of the hay crop is diminished. Hay that is put up too wet loses nutrient value faster than properly cured hay, and hay that is cut when grass is fully headed has less total digestible nutrients than hay made from less mature grass. The dry weather experienced in the first half of the 2012 haying season leads one to believe that the quality of the hay produced this year has been higher than most recent years because lower rainfall has enabled farmers to bale hay in a timely manner. However, while less rainfall has helped farmers get in their fields to harvest grass at a stage of growth closer to optimum for producing high quality hay, the lack of rainfall has also diminished hay yields. In many areas of Missouri, rainfall has been remarkably scarce, which has decreased the amount of grass available for producing hay as well as grazing. So, the apparent tradeoff between excessive rainfall and abnormally dry conditions is that of hay yield versus hay quality.

What do the effects of weather on grass availability, hay yield, and hay quality have to do with the market for hay? The market for Missouri hay is driven by supply and demand. When the supply of grass available for grazing and haying decreases due to scarce rainfall, prices for hay generally increase. Less rain translates to less grass and less hay, which means that if farmers still demand the same amount of feed for their animals, prices for hay will increase. Furthermore, if the hay within the market is of better quality than in most recent years because of timely cutting and dry baling conditions, hay prices have even greater support.

It is difficult to say what will happen to hay prices during the summer and fall of 2012. There are still many days left in the growing season for the weather to turn wetter and cooler, but as summer progresses, the likelihood of cooler temperatures and greater rainfall decreases. Furthermore, changes in animal inventory and other internal and external market forces could drive prices higher or lower.

Farmers who are looking to buy or sell hay can browse or create a listing in the online Missouri Hay Directory by visiting http://agebb.missouri.edu/haylst. For more information about hay marketing or production practices, visit http://extension.missouri.edu. At the Extension Website, you can browse informational guides and find contact information for your local University Extension Center.

For more information, contact specialist’s name, number, e-mail or visit your local Extension Center or extension.missouri.edu.£