“I hate when people are scared into falsities. There is no hay shortage, but suppliers will use such articles to charge higher than needed. Please publish facts!” 

– Equiery Reader in response to our September issue hay article.

Reactions to certain articles usually bring fairly predictable responses from our readers. When we report that good quality hay is plentiful and that prices will be lower this year, no one accuses us of publishing falsities and pandering to hay growers. But as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, when we report that it has been a tough year for hay producers and the prices for good quality hay are going up, we are accused of creating panic just to benefit hay farmers.

Understandably, this frosts the flakes of our hay growers! For farmers of any crop, it is all about the supply and demand numbers. As Kaleigh McElroy with Frey Ag explains, as of early September, the quantity of hay harvested has comparable to last year, but because of how wet the early part of the summer was, everything was either baled late and/or rained on, so the supply of good quality hay is significantly lower than last year; lower supply, same demand results in higher prices.

But our readers want more facts, not just one farmer’s experience. And so we turn, once again, to Maryland’s Forage Crops Extension Specialist Emeritus (University of Maryland) Les Vough, who has provided for our readers the numbers and analysis from across the mid-Atlantic states.

Sufficient Supply of Mediocre and Low Quality Hay

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This report breaks prices down by quality grades, one of the few that does in this part of the country. Note the statement: ”Lower quality hays still struggle to being prices acceptable to the seller.” To me this is a reflection of an abundant supply of lower quality hay on the market pulling the price of those grades down. But look at the price spread between Fair and Utility grades and Premium and Good grades, reflecting the limited supply of higher quality hays.
Meanwhile, the September 14 USDA Ag Market News report shows that, in the mid-Atlantic, Pennsylvania has the highest prices for all forage quality grades of grass hay. This is especially true for the Fair grade, which is somewhat surprising but likely a reflection of the overall supply situation. A lot of buyers are reluctant to pay the higher price for the Premium and Good grades and so the increased demand for Fair grade is driving up the price, when you compare Pennsylvania prices to other states.
And in the report for “Other hay” market trends, the East is the only region showing an upward trend in market prices, again reflecting limited supplies.
Hay prices are not a result of what is published (I only wish I had that type of influence!); hay prices are a result of supply and demand.

For the most part, the supply of mediocre and low quality hay will likely be sufficient, although the most recent Crop Progress & Condition report from the National Agricultural Statistical Service does show 12% of Maryland reporting short or very short hay supplies.  This is hay that ended up being baled over-mature or rained-on, or both.

A substantial amount of first cutting grass hay was not harvested until mid-July and later.  As of early September, there are still a few farmers who have yet to get a first cutting.  That is not hay that I would want to feed, even to beef cattle.  This is hay that will likely show up in the market some place, so it adds to the supply if we only want to look at supply numbers, but it is not hay that I would want to feed.

There are some cash crop hay growers whose barns are only about half full of decent quality hay because they didn’t want the low quality hay in their barns and gave it to neighbors to harvest just to get it off the fields, off the farm and out of the way.  The value of this hay wouldn’t cover the transportation costs to haul it to markets.

Limited High Quality Hay

Supply numbers are not available as the growing season is not over yet, but it is not the overall supply numbers that concern me – it is the supply of higher quality hay that most horse owners want that concerns me.  That is where the problem is: the supply of hay that was harvested on a timely schedule without being rained on.  This supply of quality type of hay is quite limited.

We are also seeing cases where hay that was harvested early and put into the barn dry has become musty in storage due to the prolonged dampness of the air during June and early July and the lack of ventilation in the barns because the doors were closed for so long a period of time.

What do you want?

Whether there is a shortage or abundant supply is dependent upon the type of hay you are looking for.  For the market that I am involved in supplying (harvested at the proper stage of maturity, not rained-on, not musty or dusty), the supply is definitely limited, not only in Maryland but throughout much of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, our primary out-of-state sources of hay.

The situation is also reflected in the number of entries in hay shows.  Entries in the Pennsylvania Hay Show at Ag Progress Days this year was about half of normal and pretty much the same was true for entries at Maryland State Fair. Hay growers didn’t have the normal higher quality hays to enter.

Conclusion

So the supply situation is relative to the quality of the hay you are purchasing — if lower quality hay is satisfactory for your horses you have less to worry about.

Tip: Relationships Count

The supply situation is also relative to how/where you obtain your hay.  If you are a regular, repeat customer of a particular hay grower or supplier, that grower or supplier is going to give repeat customers priority for whatever supply he/she may have with less fluctuation in price from year-to-year.  Those buyers jumping from supplier to supplier or buying at auctions will feel more of the pinch if they are looking for higher quality hay.  My brother’s regular customers shouldn’t have anything to worry about – they will be supplied one way or another, even though his barns are only about half full at this time.  But he won’t have hay for anyone else this year.

Last, but perhaps most importantly, it is easy for Equiery readers to follow the numbers on their own, as the United States Department of Agriculture reports hay sales on its website!