Total U.S. hay exports set new records in 2017 both in volume and in dollars. Those data are compiled by USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service. Total tonnage shipped in hay including cubes, compressed bales, and dehydrated products was 4.3 million metric tons last year, a 5% increase from 2016. Alfalfa hay continued to dominate hay categories as has been true since 2012 and represents more than 50% of total hay shipments. Following second is other hay (mostly grass-type hay, including Timothy), which totaled 1.5 million metric tons and was about 35% of total hay exports.
China has become to dominate foreign buyer in alfalfa hay purchasing 1 of every 2 metric tons of alfalfa hay and 1 in 4 metric tons of all hay products shipped overseas. Japan is the overall top buyer of hay products, buying 1.4 million metric tons, compared to China’s 1.2 million in 2017. Japan buys a wider mix of products and is a top buyer in most categories including cubed, sun-cured, and dehydrated meal and pellet alfalfa products.
Historically, over 95 percent of all hay headed overseas has gone to China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and United Arab Emirates (UAE). Those figures dropped slightly in 2014, and 2017 was the first year over the last two decades where those five countries have bought less than 90 percent of the hay headed overseas. In part, because Saudi Arabia has become one of the major growth areas for alfalfa hay exports in recent years. In 2013, Saudi Arabia was purchasing 1% of exports, and by 2017 that figure is now 8%. It is almost exclusively an alfalfa hay market; total quantities put Saudi Arabia as the 4th largest destination for U.S. hay products and the 3rd largest market by value for alfalfa hay. Alfalfa tonnage was up 7% with over 20 countries bought more alfalfa hay in 2017 than the previous year. Other hay was up 5 percent and remaining categories (Dehydrated alfalfa cubes, sun-cured alfalfa cubes, dehydrated alfalfa meal and pellets, sun-cured alfalfa meal and pellets, alfalfa meal and pellets not otherwise specified) showed year-over-year declines.
Hay exports surpassed $1 billion in 2012 and continue to climb. Hay export values increased 5% last year reaching $1.3 billion. Even though most of the growth was in alfalfa hay, other hay values jumped in 2017, rising 10% compared to alfalfa hay values advancing 4%. Still, alfalfa hay adds about three-quarters of a billion dollars compared to the near half a billion other hay contributes. The other categories saw declines except for dehydrated alfalfa meal and pellets, which grew 37% year-over-year, but remained under $10 million.