Alfalfa hay is an excellent source of good quality protein and fiber. 

Alfalfa hay is higher in protein and minerals and are more palatable than grass hays. Alfalfa in particular is high in energy and is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. 

When properly cured, alfalfa is the best of the legume hays from a nutrient standpoint. It has the most feed value of all the perennial pasture forages.

Alfalfa is used as for horses, dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, chickens, turkeys and other farm animals.

United States is a major producer of alfalfa hay in 2016, where US production accounts for 51.7% globally. 

In addition, United States is also the world’s largest exporter of alfalfa hay.

The world’s largest consumption market is still in the United States, mainly because of the excellent geographical conditions the United States; the quality of alfalfa hay is significantly higher than other regions.



What are the predictions for the 2021 Alfalfa Hay Market?

Hay markets in 2021 will depend on a lot of moving parts, including hay supplies, milk production, alternative feed, corn supplies, trade and drought. 

In the past, analysts have had a good handle on projected hay production. But with the disruptions of the pandemic, there’s not enough good data available to forecast next year’s crop, said Reed Findlay, extension educator for University of Idaho Cooperative Extension.

For the 17 states that produce the most hay in the United States, the production of alfalfa hay from 2005 to 2019 declined by 33%, according to Mike Rankin, managing editor of Hay and Forage Grower magazine. Haylage production during that same period declined by 18% and corn silage acres increased 14%. “Most of the decline in haylage is being taken up by the increase in corn silage,” Rankin said. “One state that has really dropped alfalfa hay acres is California that had 1 million acres of hay in 2009 and this year that state is forecasted to be around 350,000 acres,” he said. “A lot of those acres are taken up by nut trees.”

One of the reasons for substituting silage for hay is, “There is more digestibility coming from the corn crop this year,” said Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois Extension dairy specialist, emeritus, based on the 35,000 samples of corn silage tested at Dairyland Labs. “For the BMR (Brown Mid Rib) corn silage the NDF (neutral detergent fiber) digestibility is six points higher and the undigested NDF is lower so you should be able to put a little more of this feed into the ration. It appears we have good corn silage this year and about 70% of the starch should be available in the rumen,” he said. “After three to four months in storage, this number will go up.”

For haylage, Hutjens said, the lab has tested about 14,000 samples. “There is about a one-point increase in NDF digestibility this year so it’s not quite as dramatic as corn silage,” he reported. “The RFQ (relative forage quality) at 161 is a big number and good enough for dairy cows.”

USDA’s preliminary estimates for 2020 show all hay production was down 1% nationwide. 

Alfalfa hay production in 2020 was estimated down 1% nationwide. The U.S. all hay supply is projected to be steady to a little higher in 2021.

Alfalfa hay prices generally move with corn prices, and the U.S. corn supply has been steady since 2016. That puts a little downward pressure on the price. 

Corn ending stocks are still rather large with a little bump going into next year, which will probably hold corn prices down.

Alfalfa prices also move with milk prices, the U.S. dairy herd size was reported at 9.4 million head, just 0.5% (43,000 cows) more than the previous year.

But dairymen are using less alfalfa to try to keep costs down. For example, this is the first time Idaho has been below feeding 7 tons of alfalfa per cow per year.

Pasture and range condition also affect hay demand. Conditions where not good this last year for most of the western region, and cattle on pasture will probably need supplemental hay this winter.

As for exports, The Hoyt Report shows West Cost alfalfa exports were up 6% year to date through September. Those exports to China were up 53%, with tariffs and the trade war appearing to take a bit of a back seat during COVID-19. Export demand is expected to be level in 2021.

Looking ahead, the hay production outlook in 2021 is unknown. But stocks on hand are steady, domestic demand is improving and export demand is steady.

 However, substitute feed stocks are high and prices are low. Therefore, 2021 hay prices are expected to remain steady, with a possible slight upward trend for the up-coming year.

Sources:

Pandemic hinders hay crop predictions, by Carol Mumas, Capital Press, Dec 23, 2020