Hay barns are empty and prices are high as growers in a cluster of southeastern states suffer from dry conditions that have taken a toll on first cuttings.
Alabama -- "I would say hay is easily twice as expensive as it normally is -- if you can find it," says Don Ball, Auburn University extension agronomist. "It is critically dry in most of the state and we had a dry year last year as well, so a lot of people were feeding hay last summer and are still feeding hay." This spring's dry conditions got warm-season grasses and fescue off to a bad start. Although rainfall amounts vary throughout the state, Ball estimates most of Alabama has only gotten around half the rainfall normally expected in 2007. Soil moisture is very low in most areas. "We are seeing people cutting back their cattle herds and selling animals," Ball states. "Livestock producers are looking at feeding alternative feedstuffs."
Georgia -- Georgia producers got some rain last week, but dry conditions persist in most of the state. Far southern Georgia received around 6" of rain, while less than 0.25" fell in northwestern Georgia. "It's a little bit late in coming, but things are looking up and, overall in the state, rain will be of great benefit," says Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia forage extension specialist. "Even with the rain, the first cutting probably won't come off until the end of July." Northwestern and south-central Georgia, the hardest hit by two consecutive years of drought, are below normal rainfall by about 16". "Producers along the Florida border have been feeding hay since September 2006," he adds. "A lot of people have culled their cattle herds quite heavily and are anticipating having to get even more 'lean and mean' as far as maintaining cattle body condition scores." On June 11, the Georgia Farm Bureau is organizing a statewide day of prayer for farmers hammered by drought and other adverse weather conditions, such as the Easter freeze. Hancock urges any growers with hay to sell to contact him at 706-542-1529, or the Georgia Cattlemen's Association at 478-474-6560.
Kentucky -- Kentucky hay producers are facing grass and alfalfa hay first-cutting yields at less than half of normal, says David Appelman, Bracken County extension agent, Brooksville. That's courtesy of the April freeze and extremely dry conditions in much of the state. "Farmers are not feeding hay yet, but are probably only a few weeks away from hay feeding if we do not receive rain," Appelman states. "We are extremely dry. We received about 1/2" of rain yesterday, which was quickly absorbed." Pastures are looking rough, and producers scrambling to find winter hay supplies are paying double what they paid last year. "Spring seedings are very poor and the success rate is low," he says. "There was a lot of investment in spring seeding that may not bring the yields or the populations we want." Some cattle producers are starting to cull their herds, he adds.
Tennessee -- First-cutting yields are ranging anywhere from one-third to one-half of normal in much of Tennessee because of a lack of rain, says Brian White, area beef cattle and forages extension agent, Lexington. He says a lot of cattle have been sold in the last week; farmers are liquidating herds rather than buying expensive hay. Although most of Tennessee is extremely dry, the southern half of western Tennessee is among the hardest-hit areas. Producers are also struggling after the cold temperatures in early April. "The late freeze sent a lot of our grass into a reproductive phase, so it headed out early," White notes.
Contact Don Ball at 334-844-5491, Dennis Hancock at 706-542-1529, David Appelman at 606-735-2141, or Brian White at 731-968-5266.