The Washington Times-Herald

Community

June 10, 2014

Weather plays havoc with hay harvest

It is probably not possible to have perfect weather here in Indiana. Like most have heard, “if you don’t like Indiana weather, wait five minutes and it will change.”

The weather that is good for one person or situation is most likely not good for another. Wet springs and dry summers are starting to feel somewhat normal but very hard to adjust to. Forages started off slow, but with more than adequate rainfall and some heat units they exploded overnight!

It is raining as I write this. I had aimed to cut some hay last weekend on a piece of land that can’t be grazed but was quickly stopped by pop-up storms. Hay fields will just have to wait for a better day, at least moisture wise. The worse thing is watching quality slowly decrease as the plants mature. Most of our cool season grasses are the best quality for the quantity when cut by early boot stage. That early boot stage is from stem elongation to very early seed head formation; you can’t see the seed head much. Just past that is early seed head formation to milk stage. The seed heads have a slightly white, liquidity substance to them if pinched. Animals often like to eat the seed heads in this milk stage up to dough stage, probably because the plant is putting energy there for seed production. Sadly, that redirected energy starts lowering plant quality. This downhill slide in quality continues as the grass finishes maturing.

Unfortunely, it is often at this “dry seed head” stage that a lot of hay is cut. This is especially true if you are also a row crop farmer whose first priority is getting the corn and soybeans planted. Rain, timely or ill-timed as it might be, makes all of this even more challenging. If it is too wet to be in the fields, then it is too wet to be trying to make dry hay. I know of one individual who doesn’t worry about getting it cut prior to dry seed head and is convinced that regrowth and new growth in the understory eventually makes up the difference in quality. I’ve not found this to be totally true. Eventually, forage quality increases after maturity because of secondary growth, but it does not come close to its original potential and overall yield is also reduced.

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