How Much is Standing Hay Worth?

Very soon this question will pop up and will ask about selling a full year of production or a specific cutting. Getting a handle on how much either is worth is often just guess work. There is a better way.

First we need to set a price for hay after harvest and then subtract the cost of harvest to get the value of hay standing in the field. At this point someone asks “where do I get those prices and costs?” Let’s get the hay price first. USDA regularly reports hay prices by location, type and quality. For instance, the Nebraska 11 May 17 hay report shows Supreme quality alfalfa, large square bales, sold for $150-155 per ton. Prices for other hay types and qualities are listed in the report. Some reports will include cane hay and cornstalks. All of the quality parameters for alfalfa and grass hay are listed in the report. The web site is:

The USDA prices are for harvested hay so we need to subtract harvest costs from the reported hay prices. If a farmer or rancher has calculated their own hay harvest costs, that cost would be subtracted from the USDA hay price. If the farmer or rancher wants to calculate their cost of hay harvest, an available spreadsheet from KSU,, can be used to calculate a large number of machinery costs including hay harvest. Custom rates can be used as a proxy for hay harvest costs as well. Nebraska custom rates are published at: Other states publish custom rates as well.

So now we know what to pay for a ton of standing alfalfa (hay price-harvest cost). But we don’t know how many tons are going to be harvested and payed for. The best way would be to weigh the hay harvested. Sometimes that isn’t possible so a sample of the hay harvested can be weighed and then the total calculated. Another way that has been investigated is to count stems per square foot. A recent study in North Dakota showed that system has a 0.33 to 0.97 correlation to measured yield. Two of the locations had a high correlation and a third had a very low correlation. Thus stem counts may work sometimes. A third way is to scissor cut several random 1 square foot areas to get an average yield and then multiply by 43,560 to get a yield per acre. Don’t forget to correct for moisture though. And cut at the same height as mowing occurs.

Another question sometimes asked regards “how much should I pay for a specific cutting?” If weight is used for payment of the standing hay, then a buyer can pay only for what they harvest. Another way might be to use a percentage of a cash rental rate to pay for a hay cutting. In a 3-cut system for alfalfa the first cutting yields 40% of total annual yield and the subsequent are 30% each. A 4-cut system has 35% of the annual yield in the first cut, 25% in the second cut and 20% for the next cuttings. Thus if a buyer wants just the first cutting of a 3-cut alfalfa field then multiplying a cash rental rate by .4 is way to calculate a price.

Of course the amounts calculated above are starting points in a negotiation. A fair price is the one that two parties agree upon.

What Does USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report Tell Us?

What Does USDA’s Prospective Plantings Report Tell Us?


Last week, March 31, USDA released it 2016 Prospective Plantings and the Quarterly Stocks reports and the market reacted quickly to the numbers. Especially in the corn market. USDA reported farmer intentions to plant 93.601 million acres of corn, 3.629 million acres more than the trade expected and 4.802 million acres more than 2015’s Prospective Plantings. The 5-year average corn planting intentions is 92.638 million acres. Thus the 2016 corn planting intentions is only a little less than 1 million acres than the 2010-2015 average. 2016 soybean planting expectations are for 82.236 million acres compared to the 2015 intended soybean acres of 82.650 million acres. Both numbers are well above the 5-year average of 79 million acres.


These numbers would tell us that corn and soybean stocks are likely to remain nearly constant for soybeans and could increase for corn assuming trend-line yields. But we all know that plans will change due to on farm factors like weather. The changes raise the question whether the Prospective Plantings report is an accurate predictor of final planted acre numbers. I’ll cover a couple of reviews of the Prospective Plantings report to help answer that question.


Figure 1 below shows the distribution of error of the Prospective Planting report compared to final planting acres. The Prospective Plantings report is within ± 3% of the corn planted acres, 2 million acres, 95% of the time. The error is less than 1 million acres, 1.48 % of the acres, 45% of the time for corn. In soybeans 80% of the time the Prospective Plantings report is within 3% of the final planted acres, less than 2 million acres. The Prospective Planting report was an accurate estimate of corn planted acres except in periods of acreage contraction when the Prospective Plantings report over-estimated planted acres. The average error in corn was 1.48% and 2.1% for soybeans during 1996-2015. But these errors are not statistically significant.


USDA has also reported error in the Prospective Plantings compared to actual planted acres. For the same time period as Isengildina-Massa used. Their average error was 1.9% for corn and 2.1% for soybeans. The error for milo was 9.3% and 1.7% for winter wheat. Seven times the final planted corn acres were below and 13 times above the Prospective Plantings report. Soybean final plantings were above 9 times and 11 times below the final planted acres


Taking these two reports together, the Prospective Plantings report is a very good predictor of at least the corn, soybean and winter wheat acres. Of course yields will have a big impact on corn and soybean stocks.


Source: Isengildina-Massa, O. “What Do Prospective Plantings Tell Us About Planted Acreage?farmdoc daily (6):59, Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 25, 2016.

Variety and Variety Testing – Wheat;

UNL Fall Seed Guide Available Online
Annually Nebraska Extension makes available the Fall Seed Guide to assist growers with choosing the best adapted varieties of winter wheat. Wheat variety testing is conducted annually in areas of historic winter wheat production as well as some eastern Nebraska locations. Growers can obtain a copy of the seed guide at the web link below. The information contained in the guide includes yield results by location and the agronomic characteristics of all the varieties tested.

The Cropwatch website will include the 2015 Fall Seed Guide as well as past seed guides near the middle of the web page. Near the bottom of the page are links to other information sources such as Colorado and Kansas State Universities web pages about wheat.