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— There’s been too much of a good thing for the state’s hay producers: water.

“We’ve probably had only about three weeks of good hay curing weather this whole season,” said Joe Vestal, Lafayette County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. Lafayette County is in the state’s southwest corner.

“May and early June were wet. We had a little dry period in July and then from August to present we’ve had intermittent rainfall that has hampered good hay production,” he said.

“Hay quality will be lower because harvest was delayed, resulting in overly mature hay from first cutting,” Vestal said. Hay cut past its prime will have a lower nutrient content.

In northwest Arkansas, the story is the same.

“We are down on the number of acres seeded in cool season crops, such as ryegrass, wheat and other winter grazing forages,” said Darrin Henderson, Madison County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The only thing I worry about is this winter, how bad it will be, and the hay that we do have put up is not that good quality-wise.”

Additionally, unprotected hay bales are losing quality with each rain. Growers should have their hay nutrient tested.

“We’re not seeing any fungus,” he said. “Mold will form in hay when it is harvested too wet and then stored. There will be a lot of moldy, low-quality hay this winter.”

Shawn Burgess, interim extension staff chair in Stone County in the northcentral part of the state, said there’s no real weather damage, but the fields are too wet to work.

“Some producers lost a cutting of hay because they couldn’t get in,” he said.

Sometimes, the mud won’t let them out either.

“One grower told me he got his baler stuck a few weeks ago,” Vestal said.

Not everyone is in a pinch, said John Jennings, professor-forages for the U of A Division of Agriculture.

“Producers that planned early for stockpiled bermudagrass and stockpiled fescue pasture are in good shape this fall,” he said. “The weather turned cool in late August so those that waited until then to start stockpiling bermudagrass for fall grazing were too late because the grass growth rate slowed down tremendously.

“Temperatures have been near ideal for stockpiling fescue, but the lack of sunshine has been a problem for optimum growth,” Jennings said.

Where fertilizer was applied to clipped or grazed fields, the stockpiled fescue is expected to be good quality with acceptable yields.

“Those who did not set up the field for fall growth and are holding summer growth over will have some forage yield but the quality will be poor and only good enough for dry cows at best,” he said. “That is a very similar situation as last fall - lots of grass, but the quality is lacking.”

Last year, Arkansas hay producers harvested 1.4 million acres and 3.11 million tons. The year before, harvest was 1.46 million acres and 3.08 million tons.

For more information about hay production, contact your county extension office.

News, Pages 9 on 11/11/2009

Print Headline: Rain raises worries about hay’s quality

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