In Texas much agricultural land is devoted to forage-crop production. This acreage supplies the total feed requirements of most of the state's large domestic livestock as well as forage for game animals. Hay accounts for most of the forage-crop production in the state. Hay production in Texas was insufficient to supply the state's needs from the 1850s until the beginning of the twentieth century. Alfalfa was introduced in 1884, and its culture spread rapidly over the state. At that time alfalfa produced four tons of hay per acre and sold at $15 a ton. By 1912 the Texas Haymakers Association had been organized, and according to commercial statistics of that year, 387,000 acres of hay were harvested at an average of 1.4 tons per acre, for a total value of $3,557,000.
All but twenty-four Texas counties produced commercial baled hay in 1925. Hale and Lubbock counties were the largest producers. During that year 596,000 tons of tame hays were harvested from 794,000 acres and 58,000 tons of wild hays from 138,000 acres. The commercial hay industry expanded rapidly during the 1930s, largely because of improved stock-farming needs. In 1933 production totals had risen to 642,000 tons from 558,000 acres of tame hays and 184,000 tons from 205,000 acres of wild hays.
Early varieties of hay grown in the state were from some 300 types of wild grass or from alfalfa. In 1914 peanut hay became popular. In 1926 Sudan, Johnson grass, millet, and alfalfa were considered best for hay. Farmers in the 1930s began bailing timothy, clover, small grains, and annual legumes. All these types of hay were used in 1949, but alfalfa was in the lead. Hay production in the 1950s was stimulated by declining cotton acreage, a greater attention to livestock, and increased planting of soil-building crops. The 1954 hay harvest totaled 1,389,000 tons from 1,376,000 acres and was valued at $36,114,000. The primary cultivation and harvesting methods in 1950 were fertilizing, providing for good drainage, cutting, and curing.
Hay acreage and production continued to increase throughout the 1960s as a result of higher-producing varieties. Coastal Bermuda was among the most popular hay grasses during this time. In 1963, 1,821,000 tons of hay, with a value of $45,874,000, was harvested from 1,668,000 acres. In 1966, 2,221,000 acres produced 3,585,000 tons valued at $80,662,000, or $22.50 per ton. In 1968 hay, forage, and silage crops in Texas occupied more than three million acres and were valued at $100,000,000.
The most important hay crops during the 1970s were annual and perennial grasses and alfalfa. In 1974 over five million tons of hay was produced with a value of approximately $240 million. Some of the leading counties in alfalfa hay production were Gaines, El Paso, Bailey, Wilbarger, Hudspeth, and Pecos. In 1978, despite limited rain, the production of hay was nearly five million tons, with an estimated value of $234 million. Grass hay production was widespread that year, and alfalfa hay was harvested from 205,000 acres, which produced an average of four tons per acre for a total production of 5,415,000 tons.
Some of the threats to hay production have been droughts, prolonged wet weather, and fire. In 1984, 3,040,000 acres of hay were harvested, yielding 1.78 tons per acre for a total production of 5,415,000 tons valued at $533,378,000, or $98.50 per ton. Alfalfa was harvested from 190,000 acres that year, yielding 4.5 tons per acre for a total production of 855,000 tons. In 1988, 5,350,000 tons of hay was produced, with a value of $414,625,000.