I know many hay producers reading this article are frustrated by the rainy weather. They know that forage quality is declining with each day that goes by (and why did I have to state the obvious, right?). However, I want to urge hay producers to change their focus and be patient, to make sure their hayfields are dry enough to support their equipment before they try to get out on them once the sun starts to shine again.
The loss of quality in one cutting, even the complete loss of the value of one cutting, is less than ruining a forage stand for the remainder of its productive life by running equipment on ground that is still too soft, especially if it is a younger stand. So do what is really easy for me to say, but super hard to practice right now – just be patient. Take the long look and wait until the field is dry enough to support the equipment without damaging the forage stand.
There is potentially a silver lining for those of you who have overgrown hay fields that were saturated before you could harvest them. That is this: Flooding damage is usually much more severe in newly harvested stands than in stands with full growth present during periods of soil saturation.
Research conducted in Wooster by Al Barta a number of years ago demonstrated that alfalfa damage was most severe when the alfalfa had been harvested right before a flooding event. In contrast, flooding damage was much less severe in alfalfa that was full grown, in flower stage, and had not been cut prior to the flooding event. So place your focus on that and watch how over-ripe fields recover compared with fields that were cut right all the saturated soil conditions developed. This is probably good news for some of you, but bad news for others who did get their hay cut before all the rain. But whatever the case, let’s keep hoping that we will all soon be making hay while the sun shines!