Excessive amounts of rain have made hay production a challenge in parts of the Upper Midwest during August. Some states have gone from one extreme to the other - from a summer drought to rains that won’t stop.

Illinois
It has been a trying year for the hay and straw business in parts of Illinois, says Ron Tombaugh, owner of Dart Hay Service, Streator. “We’ve been plenty wet,” he reports. Tombaugh, who is also first vice president of the National Hay Association, says his area received 10” of rain last week alone, and around 22” since July 9. The year actually started out dry. The first cutting was around half of normal because of the Easter weekend freeze. “We took around 60% of our hay out and put in corn and beans,” he says. “The straw market was short, too. A lot of straw got spread on the ground and beans were planted the same day or the next day.

“Hay prices have been really good; there just isn’t that much supply,” he continues. “I’ve been buying hay out West and getting it shipped. High-quality hay is hard to find and transportation costs can be a challenge.” Tombaugh has been finding hay in North and South Dakota, Nebraska and some parts of Kansas. “If people want quality hay, they had better be securing it now, because there may not be enough to go around,” he concludes.

Contact Tombaugh at 309-531-HAAY (4229).

Michigan
Most of Michigan has received significant rainfall the past two weeks, with the exception of the Upper Peninsula, which remains in a drought, says Richard Leep, Michigan State University extension forage specialist. Late summer seedings of alfalfa and forage brassicas are benefiting from recent rains, he says. “Producers in southern Michigan can still take advantage of the moist soil conditions by planting forage brassicas for late fall and winter grazing to help lower winter feed costs. It is too late to plant alfalfa and be assured of adequate fall establishment as one moves north to central and northern Michigan.”

Here’s what extension educators from around the state say has happened weather- and crop-wise the past two weeks:

Areas in southeastern Michigan, particularly near the Ohio state line, have had up to 10” of rain since hail storms came through on July 26, says Ned Birkey, located in Monroe. Most of the southeast had 3” of rain or more Aug. 19-20. If the rain quits and the soil dries out, a nice third cutting of alfalfa is expected, he adds. Potato leafhoppers continue to feed. Some new alfalfa seedings have gone in during August and more will as soon as the soil conditions permit, Birkey says.

Many parts of southwestern Michigan have experienced thunderstorms and 6-7” or more of rain. “We have finally begun to see rainfall in the northern portion of Kalamazoo County, which was one of the areas hardest hit by the drought,” says Bruce MacKellar, Centreville. The highest rainfall totals over the last week were in Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties. “We have seen an explosion of growth” in alfalfa and grass pastures, he says. “The challenge with being able to benefit from the improved conditions of the hay will lie in finding acceptable harvest conditions.”

He expects that many producers will be tempted or forced to harvest alfalfa in September – when its roots should be storing energy for winter and early spring growth. To preserve alfalfa stand life, however, MacKellar cautions growers to follow university recommendations. Producers should “cut alfalfa when there is a good probability of more than 500 base 41 growing degree days (GDDs) left after cutting before a frost, or delay cutting until there is likely less than 200 Base 41 GDDs left after a cutting before a ‘killing’ frost.” Plants that produce 8” or more of regrowth before a frost hold in carbohydrates and proteins that help crowns survive the winter, he says. For more on late summer and fall harvest management of alfalfa in Michigan, visit http://web1.msue.msu.edu/fis/extension_documents/Alfalfafallcut.htm

Many areas in west-central Michigan recently received over 2” of rain, says Fred Springborn, at Stanton, and alfalfa is responding to it. Potato leafhopper numbers have declined in many areas. Many growers are hoping to get one more cutting before September, as forage supplies remain tight.

Central Michigan received up to 3.5” of rain over the past two weeks, but is still well below average rainfall for the year, says Paul Gross, Mt. Pleasant. “The rain was nice and gentle, allowing maximum utilization for growing crops.” Alfalfa harvest is under way with generally poor yields. The rains will help third and fourth cuttings. “I expect both a good harvest this fall and pastures to recover well enough to support grazing,” Gross says. Producers should be able to stop supplemental hay feeding. Rains should help ease the hay shortages for the time being and save current inventories for winter feeding. Leafhopper populations seem to be falling, but producers should continue scouting. New seedings have emerged and are said to be doing fine.

Contact Birkey at 734-240-3172, MacKellar at 269-467-5511, Springborn at 989-831-7500 or 616-225-7500 and Gross at 989-772-0911, ext. 302.

Minnesota
“It’s been a very unique summer,” says Lisa Behnken, University of Minnesota regional extension educator in Rochester. “We were extremely dry all summer long, with above-average heat units.” Then August rains “deluged” southeastern Minnesota, she adds.

“We have not had a surplus of hay and the markets have been hot. They could get even hotter when we see the results of the flood damage in the southeastern corner of the state; some areas are definitely in disaster zones. We have had flooded fields, flattened corn, dirty corn as the result of flood waters, and hail-damaged corn. Harvesting hay and silage in these areas will be a challenge.” Even though other parts of Minnesota continue to struggle with dry conditions, Winona, Wabasha, Fillmore, Houston, Steele and Olmsted counties received 8-15” of rain or more, mostly on Aug. 18-19.

Jami Burg lives on higher ground than some of his neighbors, but is still in the middle of the soggy part of the state, near Caledonia. “We got 14” of rain in 24 hours and the ground is pretty saturated,” he says. “We haven’t cut hay since the first week of August.” Burg’s first and second cut-tings were great, but dry conditions meant third cutting was smaller than normal. Burg grows 800 acres of alfalfa and sells 80% of his hay to the dairy market. The rest goes to dairy goat and sheep operations. “Hay demand has been good, especially from Wisconsin and Iowa because they had been dry,” he states. “Any good dairy hay is in good demand and goes out as soon as we make it.” Burg trucks his own hay within 200 miles of the farm.

He’s looking at a good fourth cutting, but field conditions could make it tough to get hay made.

Contact Behnken at 507-280-2867 and Burg at 507-724-2020.