Paul Meyer was lucky. His farm near West Point in northeastern Nebraska got a 2" rain in late June. That much-needed moisture ensured a third cutting of dairy-quality alfalfa for Meyer, a commercial hay grower.
However, he hasn't had any rain since. “Things are really starting to burn,” says Meyer. “Unless we get some rain in the near future, there won't be any fourth cutting to make.”
His first two cuttings combined yielded 3-4 tons/acre, and the third one added ½-1 ton/acre — about half its normal yield.
With enough moisture to take at least three cuttings, Meyer's better off than many growers. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows that over half of the U.S. is under drought conditions. Areas with severe drought and worse cover a wide band through the country's midsection all the way from Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. In the southern-most tier of states, the dryness extends east to Georgia. Record-high temperatures have been recorded in several locations, too.
CRP acreage has been released for haying and grazing in many counties in a number of states, including South Dakota. That's just what the state needs, says Peter Jeranyama, South Dakota State University extension forage specialist.
“Drought conditions have been the hardest on all crops in the central part of the state,” says Jeranyama. “After first cutting, there was very little, if any, alfalfa regrowth on dryland acreage.”
In western South Dakota, first-cutting alfalfa yields in many areas were about one-fourth of normal and in some counties, no hay was harvested, he says. Growers east of the Missouri River have fared better, as they've gotten some rain and taken at least two cuttings.
According to Barb Kinnan, executive director of the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association, some eastern Nebraska growers, like Meyer, got a little rain.
“But moving west toward the panhandle, another year of drought and searing heat is taking its toll,” says Kinnan. “Growers in southeastern Colorado were hard hit by winterkill because of late-spring freezes. That, coupled with the state's existing water issues, makes them extremely short of hay, too.”
Yoana Newman, a Texas A&M University forage specialist at Stephenville, has seen numerous dried-up pastures and hay fields in north-central Texas. The area's old-timers tell her this year's drought is the worst they've ever seen.
“It's affected all of Texas, but it's severe here,” says Newman. “In a normal year, producers take three to four cuttings; this year, they're barely making one. Some aren't baling anything — there's not enough forage growth to justify the cost of the fuel needed to run the harvesting equipment.”
Tamilee Nennich, a Texas A&M extension dairy specialist at Stephenville, is encouraging dairy producers to stretch their forages with byproduct feeds, such as distiller's grain, and soy, cottonseed and peanut hulls.
“Right now, it's tough to know where they'll get their hay, so they need to research other options,” says Nennich. “Stretching their current supplies will help, so they don't have to buy as much.”
In central Texas, dairy producers got a little reprieve. A lot of the corn that's raised for grain didn't form good ears, so some extra corn silage was made, she says.
Farmers in the eastern Corn Belt and farther east are sitting better, says Dave Petritz, Purdue University ag economist.
“By and large, the corn and hay crops in Indiana look pretty good,” says Petritz, who adds that auction prices for dairy-quality hay are running $115-130/ton.
For the most part, Kentucky growers have been blessed with “regular rains and some good windows of opportunity to get hay made,” says Tom Keene, University of Kentucky hay specialist.
“We came out of 2005 with very depleted inventories,” says Keene. “This time last year, our producers were already starting to feed down their hay supplies, but that's not the case this year.”
Hay Business Conference Set For Oct. 24-25 In Spokane, WA
Large-acreage hay producers looking for new ways to market their crop should attend the Oct. 24-25 Western Hay Business Conference & Expo in Spokane, WA.
Topics to be discussed include: market trends for hay exports, profit tips, other possible markets for alfalfa, maximizing yields and profits from timothy and orchardgrass, the organic hay market, developing good marketing plans and what horse owners want in hay.
To register, visit www.hayconference.com or call 800-722-5334. The cost is $150 per person; a second person from an operation pays just $125.
Besides trade show exhibits and the two-day conference seminars, participants are provided with an evening reception and dinner on Oct. 24 and breakfast and lunch on Oct. 25. For hotel suggestions, call the above phone number.