As much as anything else, results from this year’s Southeastern Hay Contest show that 2010 was a tough year for making quality hay in the region.

Contest organizers were pleased with the number of entries – 210 compared to 160 a year ago. Although some samples scored as high as 220 relative forage quality (RFQ), says Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia Extension forage specialist, the average RFQ score of contest samples this year was just under 103. That’s the lowest since the event was first held in 2004.

The fact that more bermudagrass samples were entered this year than in the past could have skewed average contest RFQ scores, Hancock says. More likely, though, weather factors were responsible for this year’s fall-off in quality.

“Harvests (in many parts of the region) were frequently delayed this year because of sporadic, but frequent, afternoon showers,” he notes.

An extremely hot summer in many parts of the region was also a contributing factor. “Many areas set records for the number of days with 90-degree-plus temperatures, and nighttime temperatures frequently brought no respite. High temperatures, and especially hot and humid nights, can severely reduce forage quality and quantity.”

RFQ is used for the contest, Hancock notes, because it provides a single, easy-to-interpret number that improves producer understanding of a forage’s nutritive quality and helps establish a fair market value for the product. “Relative forage quality allows hay producers to easily categorize and price hay lots based on relative quality and hay buyers to purchase hay lots depending on the end use.”

The contest is open to growers in 13 Southeastern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia) and held in conjunction with the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition in Moultrie, GA.

Winners in this year’s contest, announced during last week’s expo, were:

Warm-Season Perennial Grass Hay – Cherry Farms, Walton County, GA;
Perennial Peanut or Alfalfa Hay – Vickers Still Farm, Coffee County, GA;
Cool-Season Perennial Grass Hay – Duncan Legacy Farm, Carroll County, GA;
Mixed and Annual Grass Hay – Trice Farm, Upson County, GA;
Grass Baleage – Verner Farms, Morgan County, GA;
Legume Baleage – Ron Prokop, Walton County, FL.

Hancock says organizers are already gearing up for next year’s contest. Rules and an entry form will be available soon at the University of Georgia Extension forage Web site. The contest is a Cooperative Extension Service effort involving Auburn University, Clemson University, the University of Florida and the University of Georgia.

While at the Sunbelt Ag Expo, Hancock spoke of the contest with Forrest Laws on behalf of Hay & Forage Grower. Click here to view the video.