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Rough year for hay production

The seemingly continuous wet weather Ohio farms have been dealing with this year has slowed hay progress substantially in 2017.

“Certainly if you’re trying to produce dry hay, it’s been frustrating with all the rain showers coming through. That’s probably the comment I hear most from folks who are trying to make any kind of dry hay,” said Rory Lewandowski, Ohio State University Extension specialist based in Wayne County. “It’s really been frustrating to squeeze things in between rain showers. A lot of times they’re not getting that done, maybe hay is getting a little too mature or it gets rained on. That’s certainly been a struggle.”

He said several growers in his area range from second cutting to third cutting, all depending on where those spotty showers have fallen.

The latest Ohio Crop Progress Report (July 24, 2017) from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service tallied 83% of alfalfa second cutting completed, a jump of 10 points from the week before. Only 53% of second cutting on other hay was completed. Quality remained acceptable at 83% of alfalfa ranging good to excellent, the “other hay” was further spread out quality-wise at 2% very poor, 5% poor, 33% fair, 53% good, and 7% excellent.

Lewandowski noted certain grass varieties better suited for a year like this, while alfalfa generally falls in its favorability.

“Reed canary grass has a reputation of being able to tolerate some of the wetter conditions — it also does pretty good in some of the drier as well. That particular grass species is not used a lot, but for those that have it, a year like this where we’re getting a lot of wetness they’re probably seeing that grass hold up pretty well,” he said. “In general, if we’re looking at a comparison between grass or alfalfa, we’re probably going to see grass handling wetter conditions better than many of our alfalfa fields. Alfalfa just really doesn’t like having wet feet so we get into some root rot issues and just slow growth problems when we have really wet, saturated soils with alfalfa.”

The hay and forage expert said a year like 2017 brings about the advantages of wet storage.

“For those who are going the wrapped bale route for the ensiled product or have been chopping it for ensiling, they’re having a little bit better luck. They can usually get enough days to wilt that down and get it dry enough for silage or wrapping and take advantage of some of those things,” Lewandowski said. “Those types of producers are typically in a little bit of a better situation. Currently in our area for example, we still have some second cutting that needs to get finished up, but we’re also starting on third cutting, especially with some of our dairy producers who are really focusing on some of that quality.”

As the rains come down, so do a number of challenges. Lewandowski offered a few general tips on getting the most out of the field.

“Farmers should think about raising their cutting height a little bit so they have a little bit higher stubble. When you lay that windrow on top of that higher stubble, you’re going to get better air movement, better drying conditions, and it’s also going to help reduce potentially some of the ash content which relates to quality,” he said. “Raising your cutting height, spreading things out in wide windrow so we get quicker drying times. And then it comes down to watching your moisture contents. Certainly with dry products if you get too wet, you run the risk and we heard a few weeks ago of some barn fires and that kind of thing. We’ve got to make sure that it’s dry enough and that’s where if you have the ability, maybe, in a year like this, wrapping that forage as a wet product or going the ensiling route might save you some time and allow you to put up a good quality forage product.”

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