CENTRAL TEXAS — We're starting to get a better idea of how some Texas crops will turn out at the end of the growing season. For hay farmers, the outlook doesn't look good.
Last year, hay farmers were in a bind because of the excessive rain. This year, there hasn't been enough rain for a healthy crop, and that's just the start of their issues. Kayce Hungate, operator of Hungate Farm, is taking things one day at a time.
"Really what we're trying to do is just do the best we can," said Hungate. "Some things are out of our hands. If we can handle one problem at a time and not think too far ahead and just keep the ball rolling forward, that's what we're going to do."
Dry weather is great for cutting and baling hay, but rain is needed in the meantime to help the grass grow. The ongoing rain deficit has left pastures looking rough. While concerns with the weather loom, farmers are also worried about affording the fuel they need for their operations.
"We need our diesel to run our tractors, we need our diesel to run our irrigation pumps, and luckily we're blessed enough to have those to where we can at least water still," said Hungate. "Whereas a lot of farmers don't have that luxury, and to be honest they're not in a good spot right now."
According to a USDA report earlier this year, Texas saw a 28% increase in hay inventory in 2021 despite a down year nationwide. But that was a result of frequent cutting to avoid rainfall. The hay that was in stock was usually lower in quality.
"We had rain that lasted into June, July, and August that we typically don't get," said Shane McLellan, county extension agent with Texas A&M Agrilife. "But if you look at, you know, August to now, we haven't gotten much rainfall, and that really skews some of those reports."
Grass is in poor shape so far, and the hay that does get cut this year will likely suffer in quality once again.
"To be honest, I don't see a successful end in sight, or a productive end in sight," Hungate said.
If conditions like these continue, hay inventories in Texas will probably not be above the national average for a second-straight year. Tightened hay production is imminent, and ranchers may have to make some tough decisions about how to feed their livestock.