Art Luedeke, Greenwood, WI, has found it hard to get into Wisconsin alfalfa fields during an abnormally wet growing and harvesting season. He had to drop down several gears to cut full-bloom, tall alfalfa in early July.
Wet weather won’t let up in parts of the Midwest. As a result, hay harvest is delayed and quality is suffering, say university specialists from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri.
The good news: Prices for hay will likely remain strong and increase in the coming months, at least for dairy hay, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist. With high-quality hay in short supply, dairy farmers are scrambling to stock up.
The continuing drought in California and the Southwest, and increasing beef-cow numbers in areas, will lead to even more competition for the Midwestern region’s hay and put upward pressure on prices, he says.
Art Luedeke is a Greenwood, WI, grower struggling to get his hay up. A transplant from Minnesota, Luedeke found central Wisconsin drying conditions were more of a challenge until he bought a tedder.
“That’s been a key part of my operation,” he says. Normally, he teds just once before baling to shave a day off drying time, but that hasn’t worked so far this year.
“It just seems like we can’t get a break in the weather. I’m going out to ted hay this morning. This is the third time I’ve tedded it. I turn it over and it’s just as wet underneath as when I cut it. There hasn’t been any sunshine or any kind of heat. I’m tedding it now so that it doesn’t mold on me.”
On July 2, Luedeke had to drop down several gears to cut hay. “Hay is in full bloom and very tall due to the large amount of rain. The question now is if we will get enough time for it to dry before more rain moves in.”
He typically markets about 6,000 small square bales to horse owners and an average of 300 big rounds to beef producers in the region each year.
Many Wisconsin growers have had a good season so far, Undersander says, but “we do have some terrible problems in some areas.” He quoted National Weather Service data showing that last month was the fifth wettest June in Wisconsin history. Some areas received more than 6” of rain in the past two weeks.
“About 11% of first cutting has not been taken yet, so it’s going to be low quality. People are scrambling to get into their fields,” the forage specialist says.
Across the border in Minnesota, growers face similar challenges.
“We’re taking things a day at a time,” says Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension educator at Foley. “It’s certainly hard for farmers to have their hands tied behind their backs with the weather.”
In some wet areas, much of the first-crop hay was put up very late and at lower quality than normal. Heavy rains washed out fields in areas; in others, hailstorms caused damage.
Some farmers probably will produce one fewer hay cutting this season, Martens predicts, but optimism remains.
“They’ll be hoping for the chance to catch some of the better-quality hay in the second- and third-crop harvests. With a little warmer and dryer weather now, some of it is starting to come around a little bit. Weather reports indicate that we might be in a more stable weather pattern. We'll see how it goes.” (See “El Niño Return Likely To Help Hay Growers.”)
In Missouri, cool and damp weather has also slowed harvest.
The current weather, says Craig Roberts, Missouri University Extension forage specialist, is a mixed bag.
“For people who have not been able to cut hay at all, it’s a curse,” he says. “It just allows the plant to continue to mature. Yes, there is a lot of yield, but the quality is hurt.”
But those who put up hay earlier consider the rain a blessing. It helped produce what looks to be a great-looking second cutting, Roberts says.
"For some of our producers who did clip, the yield was very low. But they are now getting a regrowth cut that is higher in quality and doesn't have many stems … and there’s more yield. They’re going to see some nice hay.”