After Years Of Drought, Ranchers Face A Historic Hay Shortage

After Years Of Drought, Ranchers Face A Historic Hay Shortage
Feb 09, 2023

By Michael Marks & Jackie Ibarra

Hay inventory in the United States is at a 50-year low, according to a federal agriculture statistics agency. Drought and a spike in fertilizer prices are largely to blame.

Vanessa Corriher-Olson, a professor and extension forage specialist in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at Texas A&M University, spoke to the Texas Standard about the shortage’s impact on farmers and ranchers in Texas.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Tell us why there’s so little hay out on the landscape right now. What’s driving this? 

Vanessa Corriher-Olson: Unfortunately, our year, our hay season for 2022 was very challenging – along with drought conditions in the majority of our state of Texas, we also had high fertilizer prices. 

This is going to have ripple effects down the line. How have ranchers been affected by this shortage of hay?

So at this time of year, it’s difficult to plant anything. We’re basically in the middle of winter. So for folks that didn’t plant any winter pasture last fall, they’re kind of in a bind or may possibly be in a bind because of hay availability, or just what’s available might be low in nutritive value or may not meet the needs of their livestock. So a lot of folks are kind of scrambling, possibly trying to find hay or trying to look for an alternative to meet the needs of their livestock at this point in the season.

Well, if you can find the hay, how much more are you paying for it? And does it make economic sense to go there?

Well, hay prices do kind of vary depending on where you are in the state. Most hay is likely going to be over $100 a round bale, if not more, in some parts of our state. A lot of round bales of hay can cost a producer to produce, you know, over $160 a bale. So most hay producers, even during a normal season – good growing conditions and moderate fertilizer prices – are probably underselling themselves, selling hay for cheaper price than what it likely cost them to produce.

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