Switching from alfalfa to corn isn't likely for two Lakefield, MN, hay growers. Unless 80 acres of their established alfalfa, seeded with orchardgrass just last spring, has winterkilled after a heavy December rain caused ponding.
"With what we have invested in the crop and in equipment, we can't afford to be in and out," says Jerry Ackermann. Ackermann and his wife, Nancy, raise 370 acres of alfalfa and 30 of native grasses for local dairy, beef and sheep producers, as well as stable and horse owners. They also grow 300-plus acres each of corn and beans and are Bale Skiis dealers who frequent forage meetings around the Midwest.
"At different shows and in visiting with people, we hear that commercial hay producers are not cutting back," Ackermann adds. Small-operation growers, however, especially those with older stands, will probably plow them up and plant corn. "I'm not hearing of a lot of people putting in new stands this year, either. They're keeping what they've got."
The Ackermanns have been getting calls from customers asking if they'll have enough hay available this coming season. "We're planning on it," he says. "The prices might be slightly higher, but I've got to treat them well because they've been with us for seven to eight years."
The growers have all the hay business they can handle and have had to turn people away since December. This past season, they wrapped around 500 bales of "sweet hay." Considered too dry for haylage and too moist to bale as dry hay, sweet hay has a moisture range of around 20-30%. "It's gone quite well," Ackermann says of the sweet hay sales made to dairies and a few sheep producers.
Even with a probable $4 corn price, Ackermann is most hopeful that the flooded 80 acres of alfalfa and orchardgrass will come out all right. "We do all strip-tillage for corn, so all my fertilizer is already down. I'm not set up to do new corn seeding as we no-till all our soybeans into standing cornstalks."