Indiana and Ohio hay growers have been challenged by drought this year, according to reports from Purdue University and Ohio State University.

Indiana -- April's freeze hurt the crop's first harvest, while recent heat and near-drought conditions threaten to reduce future harvests and winter hay inventories. "Reports and my own work suggest that first cutting hay yields were significantly less than what we would have expected," says Keith Johnson, Purdue forage specialist. "I would classify what most people have harvested as being a typical second, third or fourth kind of harvest. If future harvests do not yield well, that doesn't bode very well for hay inventory to be fed to our livestock."

Johnson and Ron Lemenager, Purdue beef specialist, say first-harvest losses ranged from 20% to 70% across the state. Forages and pastures could recover and still provide adequate hay supplies, but only with enough rain. "Areas within the state now have gone extended periods without significant rainfall," Lemenager states. "We not only have a short first cutting, but the recovery of those hay crops for the second cutting and potential third cutting is starting to diminish. As a result, producers who have been used to four cuttings may only get three."

First cuttings of alfalfa hay were nearly complete in Indiana around June 10, estimated the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS). Some livestock operations had already been feeding hay because of deteriorating pastures. Eighty-six percent of Indiana pastures were rated "fair" to "very poor" within the last week, with 14% rated "good," the IASS reported.

Johnson says producers with poor yields in moisture-sufficient growing seasons should look at soil fertility. "Anything in the less-than-medium level soil test is a concern and it would be in the best interest of the producer to implement a fertilization program," he says.

Ohio - Drought conditions are intensifying over most of Ohio. The dry weather is causing many cattle producers to begin to feed next winter's hay supply, and/or consider selling lightweight calves at discounts.

"I have received several calls about harvesting alfalfa that appears to be under stress from dry weather," reports Mark Sulc, Ohio State University extension forage specialist. "Alfalfa usually has a strong capacity to continue growth under dry conditions," he says. But late-spring frost injury and a first harvest taken before the crop could replenish taproot reserves may be causes of that weak regrowth, Sulc adds.

He urges producers to be patient when planning second cutting. Although many stands don't appear to be growing, plants aren't sitting idle. Alfalfa stems stop elongating during the initial phases of moisture stress, but the plant continues to manufacture carbohydrates and protein stored in the root system. "I encourage growers to allow the alfalfa to get close to full bloom stage before taking the second cutting this year," he says. Accumulating these reserves will improve plant health and longevity.

"Allow at least a 35-day interval from the first harvest. Once the alfalfa is well into bloom stage and there is enough harvestable forage to economically justify a hay cutting, harvest it." The forage will probably be higher in quality than normal growth in full bloom because the stems are short and fine, he says. If fencing is available, controlled grazing of drought-stressed alfalfa will utilize the forage present. But use bloat prevention strategies.

Dry weather also slowed grass growth in many areas. Established orchardgrass and tall fescue have better regrowth after first harvest than species like ryegrass or timothy, which are less tolerant of dry conditions, Sulc notes. "Red clover is not as tolerant to the combined effects of drought and heat stress as alfalfa. Cutting during hot and dry weather can weaken red clover plants and may cause stand reductions. If feed is badly needed, red clover stands can be lightly grazed during drought stress."

For more on Indiana hay production, visit the Purdue Forage Information Web site at www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/forages/index.html. Contact Johnson at 765-494-4800 or email johnsonk@purdue.edu. Contact Sulc at 614-292-9084 or sulc.2@osu.edu. Visit the Ohio State University forage Web site at forages.osu.edu/.