The clock is ticking for hay producers in 13 Southeastern states who want to take part in this year's Southeastern Hay Contest. The deadline for entering is at the close of business on Sept. 30.

The event offers growers the opportunity to see how their forage stacks up against that produced by some of the best growers in the region, says Dennis Hancock, a contest organizer and forage specialist with University of Georgia (UGA) Extension.

"In years like this one, with the weather challenges, it is also a great tool for marketing," says Hancock, pictured at far left, with previous contest winners. "It highlights that the grower is producing some of the best forage in the region."

As of Sept. 2, Hancock reports, 85 entries had been submitted for this year's contest, down about 15% from last year's total. Weather has likely been a key factor. "The entire Southeast has been exceptionally dry, and some areas have seen unprecedented drought."

Hancock wouldn't be surprised to see an uptick in participation in the grass baleage category this year. "Baleage has become a lot more common in Georgia, and I suspect it has also increased in the Southeast as a whole. Producers are really seeing the advantage of this technology, particularly with regard to the ease of harvesting winter-annual forages in a timely manner."

Now in its eighth year, the contest is open to hay growers from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Categories include warm-season perennial grass hay, perennial peanut or alfalfa hay, cool-season perennial grass hay, mixed annual grass or other hay, grass baleage and legume baleage.

Entries will be ranked using relative forage quality (RFQ), which accounts for energy and fiber digestibility. Entrants each pay a $15/sample fee for an NIRS analysis, conducted by UGA's Feed and Environmental Water Lab.

Contest winners will be announced at the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition, scheduled for Oct. 18-20 in Moultrie, GA. For contest guidelines and an entry form, go to the Upcoming Events section of the UGA Extension forage Web site. For additional information, contact Hancock at 706-542-1529 or dhancock@uga.edu.