Maryland’s Hay Woes (first published in the April 2019 Equiery)
Yes, the rumors are true. Maryland and the mid-Atlantic region are in the midst of a major hay shortage. The Equiery touched base with Maryland hay farmers to find out just what went wrong, where Maryland horse owners can find hay and when the predicted harvests are for 2019.
As everyone is aware, 2018 was wet here in Maryland. In fact, it was record setting wet in Maryland and nearby states. On November 16, 2018, WBALTV reported that the annual rainfall at BWI airport was at an historical high with 63.01 inches of rain falling so far. The previous annual rainfall record of 62.33 inches had been set in 2003.
On January 2, 2019, the Baltimore Sun compiled BWI’s annual report stating that the final rainfall amount for 2018 was 71.82 inches. BWI has been collecting weather reports since 1871. The Baltimore Sun also stated in its January 2 article that Maryland saw 145 days of rain or snow in 2018 and that in Baltimore, it rained an average of 4 days out of every 10 days.
According to the National Weather Service, there were 1,391 flood-related reports made in Maryland in 2018. In comparison, there were only 262 such reports made in 2017.
This wet weather forced many equine competitions and activities to cancel throughout the year and even though 2018 is long over, we are still feeling its effects as wet weather also caused a smaller crop yield for hay farmers.
The Equiery called over 100 hay farmers in Maryland and was able to gain inventory reports from many of them. On average, the hay farmers we spoke with said that in 2018 they were able to harvest two to three cuttings of useable hay, which is low compared to previous years. Some reported hay being harvested correctly but then getting damaged by rain during the drying process. One farmer reported that he even had to re-bale some round bales to save the “good stuff” that was in the inner layers.
Nearly 55% of those we spoke with stated they were sold out of 2018 hay and those who did still have hay in their barns have it saved for current customers or their own animals. The bigger hay dealers in the state promised to find hay for horse owners but warned of ever increasing prices as they have to ship in hay from farther and farther away. One dealer said he is shipping in from upstate New York and as far west as Ohio and another said he was getting hay from Canada. Another dealer said he was able to find compressed bales in Indiana and is shipping these to Maryland.
We were also getting reports from readers of Foxtail showing up in locally grown hay. Foxtail is a poisonous weed that can cause ulcers in horses’ mouths and also GI tract issues. Typically, this region is too dry to support Foxtail. The hay farmers we spoke with were not worried about Foxtail and stated that with proper crop management practices, weeds in hay should not be an issue.
As we head into spring with even more rain and snow falling, hay farmers are already worried about this year’s crop. “It needs to be dry long enough for us to properly prep our fields. We should be doing that now but haven’t been able to,” one farmer stated. Another was worried he won’t see his first harvest ‘til mid-summer if the wet weather continues.
What does this mean for horse owners? Hay prices will continue to rise until the 2019 crops can be harvested. There is no need to panic as hay suppliers will find you hay, it just may cost more than you are used to paying. The best advice we heard from a hay farmer for this year… order your hay early and keep your barn well stocked!
To find a hay supplier near you, go to equiery.com and click on our updated Hay & Straw Directory.
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