Iowa hay harvest projected at record low

Farmers struggle to get crop out of fields


Iowa farmers are projected to harvest 1.08 million acres of hay this year, the lowest harvest acres since the U.S. Department of Agriculture began keeping records in 1909.

Of the total, 730,000 acres of alfalfa will be harvested and the remaining 350,000 acres will be other varieties of hay.

If the USDA projection holds, it will mean another year of high feed prices for cattle producers. Cool, wet weather sent Iowa hay prices soaring to $400 per ton for big square bales in May 2013 at the Fort Atkinson Hay Market.

According to the USDA, 17.8 million acres of alfalfa were harvested nationwide in 2013, the second lowest figure on record, following 2012’s 17.3 million acres.

Acreage of all other hay also has been in a long-term decline, but that trend appears to be stabilizing. In 2013, producers harvested 56.6 million acres of all hay, up slightly from 2012 and 2011.

Jodie Pitcock of the USDA Market News Service in Des Moines said farmers are trying to get the first cutting of alfalfa harvested, but have been hampered by the recent rainfall and storms.

“They are harvesting a little bit at a time, trying to work during the windows between storms,” Pitcock said. “I was talking with a gentleman today (Wednesday) who said there was a lot of hay in the northwestern part of the state that was mowed Tuesday. He said the fields are pretty soggy.”

Pitcock said the record low number of Iowa hay acres projected for harvest is likely due to farmers planting significantly more corn and soybeans where hay would have been planted in past years.

At the Dyersville Sales auction on June 25, a load of new crop average hay brought $180 per ton. Round bales of last year’s third hay crop topped out at $175 per ton.

Moist or heat-damaged hay was heavily discounted at the Fort Atkinson Hay Market on June 25. Better quality dry first crop hay brought $195 per ton for big round bales.

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