December 1 hay stocks declined nationally for the third year in a row to 79 million tons, the smallest December 1 figure since 2012. Texas inventories were hit the hardest, losing over 2 million tons in inventory from last year. Texas hay inventory lost over 30% the previous December as well, making 2018’s stock number the lowest state number since 2011. Wisconsin and Missouri also had significant reductions in stocks of 900 thousand tons each. This was the smallest December figure for Missouri since 1983, and Wisconsin dipped below 2 million tons, sitting at the lowest value in our dataset back to 1973.Declines in hay inventories were widespread through the U.S. with declines seen in the Southern Plains, Southwest, California, upper Midwest and Mid-Atlantic States.
USDA NASS provided an October forecast for hay this year. Historically, estimated hay acres are provided in the June Acreage report and are unrevised until the final value. This year hay acres were revised in the October estimate and offered a large gain in acres expected to be harvested. June Acreage showed a modest gain overall in total hay acres from the previous year up 4.3% or adding 2.3 million acres. The October revision showed another boost of 4.5 million acres putting the expected harvested acres 11% above a year ago. The final harvested acres finished the year 62 thousand acres over the 2017/18 marketing year.
Hay acres harvested are among the more difficult acres to estimate. This year’s price profile also left something to puzzle over as hay prices climbed through most of the marketing year. Since August all hay prices have been over $20 per ton higher. The revision of the final hay estimate fits much closer to the yield rumors of poor growing conditions in the Southern Plains, Southwest and California. Given tight inventories and high prices, acreage is expected to be higher in 2019/20 marketing year. Prospective plantings in the last three marketing years has overestimated the final harvested acres count, and given the swing between acreage estimates this year, it may be difficult to assess the production picture until well into the marketing year.