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Good news – western hay exports soar

Alfalfa bales on forklift
UC blog: Large increase this year in western hay exports

Over the last several months, weather catastrophes in the U.S. have torn lives apart, destroyed homes and businesses, damaged or ruined crops, and killed livestock due to devastating California wildfires and blusterous Hurricanes Mitch, Irma, and Maria.

With these losses, I’ve been ‘hungry’ for some good news about agriculture. The ding from my computer announced a welcome Inbox mail delivery – positive alfalfa news from the University of California’s Alfalfa & Forage News Blog at

The report, written by UC’s Dan Putnam, William Matthews, and Daniel Sumner, shares a dramatic increase this year in western hay industry exports; on top of good hay export increases in the two preceding years. U.S. exported hay volume has risen 56 percent and hay value has increased 47 percent over the last three years.

Who’s buying western U.S. alfalfa and grass hays? For the last two decades, Japan has been the No. 1 buyer. In recent years, demand by China, Korea, United Arab Emirates, and most recently Saudi Arabia has increased. According to the three writers, Saudi imports from the western U.S., which was nearly zero almost four years ago, now account for 1.5 million metric tons from the U.S. – definitely incredible growth.

According to the Foreign Agricultural Service, the U.S. is the largest alfalfa hay supplier to the Saudi’s. Why the increased demand by these countries? According to a separate UC alfalfa report, the federal agency says the U.S. holds major production advantages, including high quality hay grown under dry conditions, plus advanced transportation and infrastructure systems.

Sounds like money well spent to me.

In fact, about 15 percent of the alfalfa hay production and about 50 percent of the grass hay volume grown in seven western hay-producing states is now exported, including hays from California, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada.

These western alfalfa milestones are important for an industry that’s also had its troubles; not from hurricanes or wildfires but from five years of drought and low milk prices which has reduced the amount of alfalfa that dairymen include in cow rations.

It seems like every cropping system has its economic cycles. It’s great and welcome news that the western alfalfa industry is enjoying healthy export growth.

TAGS: Outlook
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