Midwestern hay growers have been struggling to get first-cutting hay put up between rainstorms. On the positive side, the rain has been filling up reservoirs and helping freeze-damaged fields recover. The downside is rained-on hay.
Iowa -- The April freeze that damaged alfalfa helped throw tonnage off by as much as 50% in some areas. Weeds then invaded fields and wet weather brought fungal problems to parts of the state, according to Keith Williams, USDA Market News reporter at Kearney, NE. Wet weather hit western Iowa hard during May. "The last two weeks have brought some reprieve, and as of last week some people were still fighting to get their first cutting put up," Williams says.
Kansas -- "The weather has hurt us real bad," says Rich Hruska, USDA Market News reporter in Dodge City. "The frost in April hurt hay producers more than anything and then the central part of the state has had lots of rain and flooding. Lots of first-cutting hay is still on the ground, and we should be doing second cutting." Southeastern Kansas has been hit with excessive rain as well. Dairy-quality hay production is way down state-wide and supplies of dairy hay are very tight. Grinding hay is bringing $95 to $110/ton, while dairy hay is bringing $130 to $150/ton, according to Hruska.
Nebraska -- A few Nebraska alfalfa growers were able to get first-cutting hay up during a two-week break between rain showers, but that cutting is running late and second cutting will have to follow close behind, says Keith Williams. "There has been a 50% reduction in total tonnage in the first cutting because the April frost knocked things back," Williams reports. "People typically look to the first cutting for around 50% of their total annual yield (on dryland alfalfa) in both Nebraska and Iowa, and now the pressure is on for good production in the second through fourth cuttings."
Quality is fairly good if hay can get put up without getting rained on because first cutting didn't get to the bloom stage. "The first cutting has much finer stems than usual, no doubt an effect of the April freeze since this is regrowth rather than first growth," explains Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska extension forage specialist. "It has not bloomed as profusely as first growth often does, so many fields have significant growth on new shoots developing from the crowns, even though little bloom has developed." He says regrowth will develop more slowly in fields where growers cut off these new shoots compared to fields where cutting height was increased slightly to allow most new shoots to remain intact.
Demand is very good, and prices for high-quality hay have been strong. "Average hay prices may weaken some if total hay and roughage supplies increase as expected," Anderson adds.
Oklahoma -- It has been a year of extremes in Oklahoma, according to John Caddel, Oklahoma State University forage agronomist. The state had a mild winter following a nasty drought. The April freeze didn't seem to hurt Oklahoma's forages much, except along the Kansas-Oklahoma border, where they were set back around two weeks. Excessive rain in May and June has made it hard to get forages harvested. "It is growing faster than we can graze it, and it is too wet for hay harvest," Caddel says.
A number of hay growers were able to harvest their first alfalfa cutting two weeks early, before the rain started. "Instead of harvesting May 1, some people harvested around April 20 or before," Caddel states. "Most people throughout the state got their first cutting in. There was a big need for forage at that time because all the barns were empty after two years of extreme drought." The rain has replenished the soil and filled ponds. "In general our pastures and ranges are in better shape than they have been in for four or five years," he says. Some of the state's switchgrass was frozen to the ground in April. It came back well, thanks to warm weather and the abundant rain.
Contact Keith Williams at 308-237-7579, Rich Hruska at 620-227-8881 or John Caddel at 405-744-9643.
For a report from last week's newsletter on the opposite weather situation in the Southeast, click on hayandforage.com/ehayarchive/drought-plagues-us.