It is no secret that alfalfa has long been a favored hay variety by cattle producers and dairymen across Texas, especially for ruminants requiring high energy hay for rapid development and growth. For one, alfalfa hay is very digestible and can be high in crude protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals.

But thanks to last year’s historic drought, the availability of quality alfalfa, like most hay varieties, has been extremely limited, and ranchers and dairymen lucky enough to find out-of-state sources for good alfalfa had to fork over as much as $300 a ton for quality that was at times less than desirable. Now ag economists are warning Texas producers not to expect a great deal of relief this year either, though conditions have improved.

“At one time, about ten years ago, we had upwards of 80,000 Texas acres planted in alfalfa. But with water restrictions in recent years and the drought last year, those numbers are smaller now,” says Dr. Calvin Trostle, Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist. “The total number of acres planted in alfalfa is one of those areas that is difficult for us to gauge, mainly because it is grown in small patches across several areas of the state.”

But Trostle says with Roundup Ready alfalfa now available, producers may opt to return to alfalfa as a forage crop, and alfalfa acres in Texas could actually increase in the coming years.

Forage experts are quick to point out that because Texas cattle herds were culled significantly last year the overall demand for hay will be less this year than in previous years. They also suggest an influx of breeder and stocker cattle could increase the demand for high energy hay before the end of the year.

In other areas of the Southwest, Trostle says New Mexico, a major producer of alfalfa with an estimated 220,000 acres last year, is experiencing “dire water restrictions” as the drought continues to plague large areas of the state.

“In southern New Mexico especially, irrigation districts are limiting water to as little as 8 inches of allocations for ag use, and that might be enough to produce a single crop, but no second or third crop with those kinds of restrictions,” he adds.