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Hay farmers reflect on a tough year

Posted at 9:21 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 23:14:15-05

CENTRAL TEXAS — New numbers from the USDA show an uptick in hay sitting in Texas barns, but this comes as Central Texas farmers say 2021 was a down year for hay production.

Local hay producers have some thoughts as to why that is.

Hay farmers are an essential cog in the wheel of agriculture. They supply the food needed for livestock like dairy and beef cattle. There's a lot of pressure for people like Bobby Hungate, owner of Hungate Farm, to keep churning, and more pressure is mounting as input costs climb.

"What's got everybody scared to death now, and rightfully so, is these prices," said Hungate. "My fertilizer prices are at least double what they [were] last year."

2021 wasn't an easy year for our hay producers. After a frigid start, the spring and summer provided too much rain. The weather didn't give farmers enough time for the hay to dry, and it brought a resurgence in pests.

"The armyworm situation, they, the way they got their name is they'll move across a field like an army. I mean they will wipe it out," said Hungate.

Hungate says his farm's hay production wasn't where he wanted it to be, which is a sentiment echoed in a recent USDA report. It states hay production was down nationwide in 2021, but interestingly enough, Texas showed a 28 percent gain in hay inventory. How can both be true? The inventory increase is likely due to all the hay that was harvested in a race to beat the rain.

"Volume-wise, there was a lot of hay put up, but quality-wise there wasn't all that much," said Hungate.

"We had rain that lasted into June, July, August that we typically don't get, but if you look at, you know, August to now, we haven't gotten much rainfall," said Shane McLellan, county extension agent with Texas A&M Agrilife. "And that really skews some of those reports."

To put it another way, the production of good hay in Texas was down last year, but there was a lot of lesser-quality hay that accounted for the extra inventory on farms.

Though the quality of the hay suffered a bit, Hungate hopes his customers know that farmers are just doing the best they can to work with what mother nature throws at them.

"If my hay's going to be a little brown, it's going to be brown, but it's not going to be where you bust a bale open, smoke comes out of it and it's musty," Hungate said.

The hope is that the weather plays a little fairer this year and that the economic woes won't compromise their business.

"Do I put extra money in for the input costs to fertilize, or do I just skip it and just buy feed and not grow any hay?" asked McLellan.

With so much agriculture depending on hay, farmers know they have their work cut out for them in 2022.