Sept. 15, 2015 08:00 AM

Visits to Southern California and Wisconsin

by Dan Putnam
Extension Forage Agronomist
University of California-Davis

California farmers and residents must believe that they have been cast past the gates of hell – as temperatures in early September soared to record high levels (over 100 in many areas), making this the second hottest summer on record. Add to this about 40 wildfires across the state that have scorched huge acreage and burned hundreds of homes; these continue as of this writing. Several fires are raging today north and south of Sacramento and near Fresno (threatening the historic sequoia trees), making national news. These are mostly in the hilly regions, but smoke has blanketed many areas for days and weeks, with air quality being very poor, from the intermountain area through the Central Valley. Irrigated agricultural areas are not directly affected, but the smoke clouds have affected air quality and light intensity – and in some areas ashy deposits will add to quality woes for alfalfa hay in the field.

Growers have found it hard to produce high-quality hay this year due to the heat, which is necessary for profitability since medium- and low-quality hay prices have fallen through the cellar. A lot of hay is being sold at a discount. Dairies have turned their attention to corn silage, now in full harvest, so hay demand is light. Acreage as well as new seedings of alfalfa are way down this year. If the dairy situation improves next year, the low acreage bodes well for an improvement in alfalfa price (from the cash hay perspective, not the dairy perspective).

Exports of hay have picked up for some regions, particularly to China and Saudi Arabia, the low price of alfalfa being attractive. All in all, a pretty dismal year for alfalfa in contrast with 2014, which was overall a profitable year for alfalfa hay growers and dairies alike.

by Dan Undersander
Extension Forage Agronomist
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Forage production has been above average this year. Most farmers have larger inventories of hay and haylage than in recent years. In fact, some have asked if they could simply not harvest the last summer cutting due to large inventories (the answer is yes if the alfalfa is not lodged).

Pasture production has also generally been good. Those who fertilized with nitrogen around August 1 will have adequate forage supplies from the pasture to graze into the fall and early winter.

Corn silage harvest is now in full gear. As of the beginning of the week, 16 percent of the crop was reported as being harvested.