Hay production in northern Florida is 40-50% short compared to last year's figures. After mid-October rains, most counties have not received a significant amount of additional rain, says Yoana Newman, University of Florida extension forage specialist. Growers got one or two cuttings in areas that should have produced three or four. Northern Florida had a dry spring, too. "There have been two killing frosts in the area, taking care of what little grass production existed from perennial warm-season grasses," she states. "Ryegrass and clovers are struggling for survival under the dry conditions. Winter forages are almost non-existent and ryegrass planted on the October rains is barely surviving." Rain has been forecast this week, she adds.
Growers are counting on heavy dew to keep leaves from shattering when baling edible peanut crop residue. "Given the shortage of hay, farmers are relying on peanut hay to cope with this drought situation," Newman says. The area is nearly 20" behind in rainfall, having currently accumulated 40-45" instead of what should be 55-60" of precipitation. "Many reports from farmers and ranchers express not having seen a year this bad, with many farmers reporting wells running dry in the last 30-60 days," she says.
Thanks to July-August rains, most central Florida ranchers took two or three hay cuttings, but the first cutting was insignificant due to lack of moisture. Newman says that hay production in this area is about the same as it was last year, but lower than normal.
Although southern Florida is not a traditional hay-production area, this year's hay supply is three times that of normal-rainfall years. Dry conditions have worked favorably toward curing and making hay. However, Newman says moisture will be needed soon. Limpograss, a warm-season perennial adapted to very wet conditions, has not grown well, and tonnage has decreased significantly. Limpograss is used for grazing and stockpiling.
"South Florida has no ground moisture," Newman says. "Winter forages are out of the question this year because of the lack of moisture. There is no water for pasture or animal use." Pasture insects such as chinchbugs, spittlebugs and armyworms are bringing significant pressure. Some bermudagrass stands have rust problems. "Pastures are in pitiful condition," she says. "Although the situation is not as bad as in Georgia or the Carolinas, this year has been the worst many producers have seen in Florida."
View a recent U.S. Drought Monitor Map showing Florida's dry conditions at drought.unl.edu/dm. Contact Newman at 352-392-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maine's hay producers had a good year, reports Richard Brozozowski, Cumberland County extension educator, Portland. "There is plenty of hay available," he says. "Unlike other parts of the country, we had good first and second crops." For those looking for hay, check out the University of Maine's online hay directory at www.umaine.edu/livestock/hay.htm.
Contact Brozozowski at 207-780-4205.