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Hay: a major ingredient in many livestock operations.

Hay is a $3-billion-a-year industry in the United States. In 1990, it ranked eleventh in cash receipts among U.S. farm commodities--ahead of tobacco, tomatoes, and potatoes, reports a recent issue of the Agriculture Department's FARMLINE magazine.

Hay production of 153.5 million tons in 1991 was 5 percent above that of the previous year. This year's production, however, is expected to be about 147 million tons, according to economist James Cole of USDA's Economic Research Service.

Because of larger stocks and lower prices, harvested hay area this year is expected to be down about 3 percent from 1991's total of 62.6 million acres. The most recent peak occurred in 1988, when 65.1 million acres were harvested.

The top five States in 1991 hay production were Texas, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, and South Dakota. Together they accounted for 28 percent of the Nation's hay output.

Hay is produced in all 50 States. Only in Florida and Hawaii was it not among the top 20 commodities in cash receipts in 1990. California had the highest returns that year with $670 million, while Texas had the largest hay area harvested at 3.8 million acres.

U.S. production increased from 127 million tons in 1970 to 147 million in 1990. Most of the gain can be attributed to increases in the average per-acre yield (2.07 tons in 1970 compared with 2.39 tons in 1990), since harvested area stayed about the same (61.5 million acres in 1970, 61.6 million in 1990).

"Improved technology and better production practices are the primary reasons for the steadily increasing yields," Cole says.

An Important Feed

About three-fourths of the hay produced in this country is fed to livestock on the farms where it is grown, Cole says. But a majority of dairies in California and parts of Arizona and New Mexico buy all their hay.

In 1991, the marketing year average price producers received for a ton of hay sold was $71, $10 below the average price in 1990. The record price was 1989's average of $85.40 per ton following the 1988 drought.

Beginning hay stocks for 1992 were more than adequate, with a carry-in of 28.6 million tons, Cole says. This was about 1.6 million tons above year-earlier levels. "We had a mild winter last year, so livestock were able to graze on pasture for a longer period, and hay stocks did not have to be used as extensively," the economist says.

Like pasture and corn, hay is an important livestock feed. It is fed primarily to cattle, sheep, and horses, but alfalfa meal and pellets are used as feed for swine and poultry, too.

Dairy and beef cattle consume between 90 to 95 percent of all hay produced in the United States, with the balance going to horses, sheep, and processing uses.

High in Nutrients

Average-quality hay contains between 25 and 35 percent crude fiber and 45 to 55 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN).

The nutritional quality of hay depends on how often it is cut and how long it is stored. "Hay can produce as many as eight cuttings per year," Cole says, "but the crop tends to lose some of its quality with each successive cutting."

Hay helps ruminant animals' digestive tracts perform properly. It acts as a stimulant in moving feed through the intestines. It also speeds the development of the rumen function in young livestock.

Because hay comes from many different plants, its nutrient content and palatability vary, Cole says. Moreover, hay alone does not provide a balanced feed ration and is commonly supplemented by other feeds and feed concentrates.

Alfalfa usually accounts for more than 50 percent of all hay produced, Cole says. About 80 percent of alfalfa is used as hay, with the rest consumed as pasture, silage, and processed alfalfa.

Wisconsin is the top producer of alfalfa, accounting for 8.4 million tons in 1991, followed by California with 7.0 million tons. Alfalfa is the leading cash crop in New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada.

Its long root system makes alfalfa a relatively drought-resistant crop. But to produce top yields, alfalfa needs lots of water and favorable growing conditions. The national average yield has been about 3.1 tons per acre since 1988 (which includes two sub-par years), but in Arizona, where acreage is irrigated, yields average over 7 tons.

Of all the legume hays, alfalfa has one of the highest protein contents per acre. The protein content of alfalfa meal averages 19 percent. Alfalfa hay is also high in calcium, carotene, and other vitamins and minerals.

Clover is another important hay crop, and numerous types of grasses provide smaller amounts of hay. Some hay is made from food grains. Barley, oats, rye, and wheat make nutritious hay if cut when stems and leaves are still green and the grain is in the soft dough stage.
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Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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