Rain has slowed Florida Panhandle hay growers’ summer harvests to the point of likely lowering grass-hay quality, says Mark Mauldin, University of Florida Extension specialist for Washington County.

“Wet conditions all but stopped hay production this summer,” he says. “While farmers and ranchers were watching and hoping for a break in the rain, the hay fields continued to grow and become more and more mature.”

Overly mature grasses can decrease in digestibility as well as nutrient content, Mauldin warns. Spring- or early summer-applied nitrogen fertilizer may have leached away before the grass was able to utilize it.

“The amount of nitrogen that grass is able to uptake has a direct correlation with the level of protein supplied to livestock digesting the forage. In short, the more nitrogen that escapes the grass, the less there is available to show up as protein in the forage.”

Excess water absorbed in grasses also has a diluting effect on the nutrients in plants, Mauldin says. “This situation is compounded through the hay-making process as nutrients are often lost with water while the hay is curing in the field.”

As the weather has moved to more consecutively dry days, hay production is in full swing throughout the region. But, because hay quality is likely to be lower than normal, the Extension worker recommends having nutrient analyses performed on that hay.

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“If it is determined that the feed value of the hay is less than that of years past, the livestock being fed the hay will require additional supplementation,” he says, adding that now is the time to make supplementation plans.

For more information, visit “Forage Testing” and “Defining Forage Quality.”

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