California hay yields average as acreage shrinks
SACRAMENTO — Though overall acreage was down a bit this year, hay producers in California found their per-acre yields to be about average, an industry expert said.
Alfalfa growers have been cutting, windrowing, raking and baling the last remnants of the crop in the last few weeks, and most achieved six to eight cuttings this year, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.
Growers encountered good drying conditions throughout the season except for a stretch of hot afternoons in early July, said Phil Bowles, a board member and past president of the California Alfalfa and Forage Association.
“From a normal cultural standpoint, it was a pretty standard year,” said Bowles, a Los Banos, Calif., grower.
Producers were hoping for abundant yields this season to make up for a slight drop in acreage. California producers were harvesting hay from 1.45 million acres in 2013, down 6 percent from last year, according to a NASS plantings report.
The decrease was partly due to some growers electing to take out stands to put in other seasonal crops such as fresh-market tomatoes or melons, Bowles said.
“I’m not sure what the explanation (for the reduced acreage) is except that it’s a year-to-year variation,” he said. “You put new fields in and take others out … When you make your decision to take out a field and put in melons, it’s obviously not your best hay field or you wouldn’t be doing it.”
Despite a reduced tonnage, prices for alfalfa and other hay have remained a bit softer then they’ve been in the last couple of years. Supreme alfalfa is averaging about $242 per ton in the San Joaquin Valley, compared to $265 a ton in the summer of 2012 and as much as $290 a ton in 2011, according to USDA hay reports.
“I think that gives the dairymen a little more breathing room,” Bowles said. “Hay is still a reasonable choice for a grower that can grow good hay and has an adequate water supply.”
Among other California field crops, according to NASS:
• The cotton harvest is in full swing and the crop was about three-quarters harvested by the first weekend of November. Isolated rain at the end of October wasn’t enough to cause staining.
• Over one-third of the winter wheat fields are planted and some early-planted wheat has emerged. Farmers have begun to plant in dry soil and are waiting for rain to start germination. Most winter wheat is in fair to good condition.
• Range and non-irrigated pasture remains in fair to very poor condition, as more precipitation is needed to improve foothill and valley rangeland conditions.
USDA California weekly hay report: http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/ml_gr311.txt