Dry weather in a large chunk of the country’s midsection is rapidly becoming a major concern for many hay growers.
“We had about an inch of rain in May, but that was it,” says Bill Stockman, who grows alfalfa-grass hay for horse owners on 110 acres near Oxford, IA. “Now we’re getting ready to start in on second cutting and the hay isn’t there. It’s going to push the price of hay up, but that doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have any bales to sell.”
The lack of rain did let Stockman take first cutting in early May, about a month ahead of normal. “It was quite a turnaround from the last two years, when we couldn’t get going until the first week of June because it was so wet.”
First cutting produced fairly good yields of around 2.5-3 tons/acre. “That’s a little bit above average for us,” he says. “And the quality was very good. We were able to get it put up without it getting rained on.”
But with conditions deteriorating, Stockman expects yields to be about half of normal when he starts second cutting next week.
“In a good year, we can count on taking around 40 bales an acre (small squares weighing around 50 lbs each) on our second crop. With the way the fields are looking now, though, we’ll be lucky to get 20-25 bales off an acre.”
The situation is similar farther east in the Corn Belt. Dry weather has “become problematic” for growers in many parts of Indiana, says Keith Johnson, forage specialist with Purdue University Extension. “That’s especially so in the southwest and northwest corners of the state. In many areas, the dry conditions are likely to affect yields for the next cutting.”
He advises livestock producers to make contingency plans if a full-fledged feed-supply shortfall develops. “It may be a good idea to start laying in supplies of purchased hay as soon as possible. That might seem a little premature, given how early it is in the season. But if hay supplies turn out to be on the short side, I’d rather be one of the first in line working with a hay supplier than one of the last.”
Knowing when to pull the trigger on hay purchases can be tricky, Johnson says. “There’s still a lot of the season to go. Things could turn around and quickly. This is not going to be a year without some challenges.”
In the mid-South, observers were using the term “flash drought” to describe extremely dry weather conditions in the last several months. In a recent story posted on hayandforage.com, University of Missouri (MU) Extension climatologist Pat Guinan noted that the state’s Bootheel region experienced “one of the driest April-May periods in 118 years.” MU forage specialist Rob Kallenbach reported that pastures around the state are growing at half-normal rates.
In neighboring Tennessee, a string of 90°-plus days in mid- to late May, coupled with a lack of precipitation the last several weeks, has many growers nervous, reports Gary Bates, forage specialist with University of Tennessee Extension. “There’s nobody in a drought situation here yet, but nobody has an overabundance of moisture, either. At this point, everybody is sitting on the edge of their seats.”
In Arkansas, University Extension workers have been pumping out press releases on shoring up forage supplies in case of drought situations, then rejoicing in getting 2” or less of rain in more than a month. Plan ahead for a forage shortage is the succinct advice from John Jennings, University of Arkansas Extension forage specialist.
Hay growers in other regions are also facing extremely dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map for June 5. Nearly all of Georgia but its northwestern corner is experiencing moderate to exceptional drought. In the West, the map showed moderate to extreme drought conditions covering almost all of Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. Most of Wyoming, southeastern Montana and Nebraska’s Panhandle were experiencing abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions.