Hay

By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, djburden@iastate.edu.  

Updated August 2017

Production of hay in the United States totaled 134.8 million tons in 2016, which was a result of 53.5 million hay acres harvested. The average yield in 2016 was 2.52 tons per acre, which was a 1.02% increase from 2015. The average price received was $133 per ton which totaled 15.6 billion dollars in 2016 (NASS).

Electricity generation from renewable biomass fuels is becoming a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels. The drawbacks of many biomass fuels such as wood chips or sawdust have been the proximity to the power plant and the long-term availability of the fuel supply. Some researchers and growers believe that a dedicated feedstock supply system using hay would guarantee a consistent, long-term fuel supply.

Most proposed feedstock supply systems incorporate some processing. During this processing, the hay would be fractionated into stem material for conversion to electricity. The high-quality leaf meal would be processed into pellets, or "pelletized," and sold as a livestock protein supplement or animal feed. Other proposed types of processing include fermentation and technologies that use biodigesters and similar systems.

In a recent study, University of Georgia researchers concluded that using hay as a green biomass is cheaper than natural gas or petroleum but more expensive than coal. During a presentation at the 2008 National Alfalfa Symposium, a USDA scientist described the potential benefits of using alfalfa stems as a biomass alternative for cellulosic ethanol plants. Two studies, one at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and the other at the University of Kentucky (UK), are currently underway. The UNI study will evaluate what mixes of prairie hay are best for turning into biomass to generate electricity. The UK study will consider production and marketing issues associated with hay.   

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Links checked August 2017.