Alfalfa outlook favorable for winter
September 10, 2008
OMAHA (DTN) – Although this summer’s first alfalfa cutting was delayed in many Midwestern states due to excessive rains, the subsequent growth and cuttings may have made up for the dip in supply.
According to Dr. Bruce Anderson, professor of Agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the first cutting of alfalfa was lower quality because it was cut so late. The cutting delay resulted in a decrease in the amount of dairy quality hay, as the crop sitting in fields became coarser and unusable for dairy cattle, Anderson said.
The excessive moisture, however, quenched alfalfa fields in many previously drought-stricken areas so that yields and quality of subsequent cuttings were improved.
Subsequent growth of alfalfa has been fairly good for many alfalfa-growing regions, especially since there has not been excessive heat stress on alfalfa this season.
“We may have had a little better overall alfalfa yield and quality than what we normally expect,” Anderson said. “Some recovery in terms of tonnage of dairy quality alfalfa has been ongoing through the summer. But it never is easy to get high quality alfalfa during the high heat of summer, even with the milder weather we’ve had this year.”
Barring any severe weather as the growing season ends, good yields on final alfalfa cuttings could make up for the early season losses of dairy quality alfalfa.
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“With the build-up of soil moisture through springtime and the lower water demand over the summer, the prospects of some extra tonnage of dairy alfalfa during the last cutting for the year is pretty good,” he said. “As long as we don’t enter into extra wet periods that could delay final cuttings or damage alfalfa that has already been cut, I think our prospects for a good end to the season are quite high.”
Anderson said most growers have harvested three cuttings of alfalfa so far this season, although some who got their first cuttings out early and didn’t have long weather delays could have already gotten four cuttings out by now.
He also said he is seeing a broader range in reported dairy hay prices than he has seen in a long time. The bulk of dairy alfalfa at the farm in the Central Great Plains has been running approximately $150 to $170 per ton, but Anderson said he knows of sales that have ranged as low as $125 and as high as $200.
That disparity in prices could be caused by a variety of factors.
“(The range in prices) could be due to a traditional reluctance to pay certain price levels, or because a buyer has developed a history with a supplier for a price that is a little more moderate than other situations,” he said.
Anderson added that there are also some hay sources that are more interested in getting hay sold than in hanging on for higher prices.
“Some hay growers are better than others at getting peak prices,” Anderson said, “but then some dairymen are better than others at buying hay less expensively.”
Looking toward the upcoming winter season, Anderson said he believes this year will be comparable or lower than last year.
“I think we’re going to be in better shape than the way it was looking last spring, but I don’t think supply will be any better than last year, or actually a little lower.”
Anderson attributes some of the dip in supply to the decreased number of acres devoted to alfalfa as farmers convert alfalfa acres to row crops.
“The forecast is for 2 percent less alfalfa tonnage from 4 percent fewer acres on a national basis,” he said. “But the reduction is much greater in the Great Plains region.”
The August 12 Crop Production report from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service forecasts a drop in alfalfa acres, from 21,670 million acres in 2007, to an estimated 20,778 million acres in 2008. Production forecasts also reflect a decline from 72,575 million tons in 2007, to the 70,944 million tons forecast for 2008.
cheryl warren can be reached at email@example.com