Forage producers continue to maneuver equipment among spastic rainfall patterns, cooler temperatures and the first killing frost in an attempt to salvage the last hay harvest. Other than frost, the other hurdles have been present all season, making this one of the most unusual years on record.

Fall harvest, whether hay, pumpkins or marketing the calf crop, is usually a highlight of the year. Down through the ages, the fall harvest has held a position of such importance that traditional celebrations have been placed on every calendar, regardless of politics or religion.

It’s usually an arm-twisting task to find a farmer who will speak negatively about rain. In forage country, rain is a necessity and memories of droughts that served to blot the annual ledger with red ink aren’t easily forgotten.

This year appears to have placed more irons in the fire. Low livestock market prices; high fertilizer prices; reduced horse, dairy and beef cattle hay-marketing outlets; transportation costs; and government regulations continue taking an immediate toll while casting uncertainty on the future.

Above-average rainfall in 2008 and 2009 created hay volume, but questionable quality. In regard to volume alone, it’s a buyer’s market and serious hay producers look forward to its reduction.

In traditional cow-calf country, Arkansas producers, following adequate fall rains and unusually good pasture conditions, find themselves in a strange role. Should they hold cheap calves until next spring, backgrounding them toward higher weights in hopes that 2010 market prices will be a better gamble than a lottery ticket?

The unusual rainfall pattern has also enabled adequate forage production in the absence of fertilizer. This has been a boon, especially for smaller livestock producers who have also been able to purchase hay cheaper than it could be raised. However, the farm soil ledger is becoming unbalanced as a growing number of samples illustrate that essential nutrients are being depleted.

After commercial hay and livestock producers tally their 2009 records, the question remains, “How many will be in business in 2010?”