Hay harvest well behind schedule

Endless parade of summer showers has affected hay quality, 
and for many the first cut still hasn’t been rolled up

The wet summer has created endless headaches for hay producers, and left their harvest schedules in tatters.

“It’s been a challenge trying to put it into a bale of any kind,” said Darren Chapman of Virden-based Chapman Farms, one of the largest hay exporters in southwestern Manitoba.

“We’ve been raking hay and trying to bale it for the last few days, but haven’t had much success. It’s just not drying.”

Even with last week’s break in the rain, high humidity and wet ground has slowed the dry-down process and caused a lot of delays.

The extra moisture has increased yields “a bit,” but a prolonged hot and dry spell is needed to bale first-cut alfalfa and get the second cut underway, he said.

Plenty of hay is still standing, and losing quality as it becomes overly mature. But if it can be put up without getting rained on, it might end up being better quality than some of the stuff that’s already baled, Chapman said.

“I think there’s no surplus of hay kicking around,” said Chapman. “So if you can get some now nearby, then you’re probably better off getting it now.”

In the Interlake, crop quality is a little below average, and good-quality hay may be in short supply, said Tim Clarke, a farm production adviser with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

The late start has cut into yields for tame hay, and native hay acres around Lake Manitoba are down due to the lingering effects of the 2011 flood that converted many lakeshore stands into cattails and foxtail.

Also, the summer rains pushed lake levels higher than normal and turned many hayfields into muck again this year, he added.

“Up until about a week and a half ago, it was raining every three or four days, so the quality will decrease because of that,” said Clarke.

“Guys may have got one or two little showers on it. Then they had to turn it over so they could bale it up.”

Rainfall was so scattered and variable that looking to the weather forecast for clues on when to start mowing was more frustrating than enlightening, he added.

“I talked to guys who were too wet, then other guys 15 miles over who were too dry,” said Clarke.

Ranchers who fear being short this winter will likely scrounge around later in the summer to put up native hay, even if it’s well past its prime. With protein and energy supplementation in the form of alfalfa, screenings, pellets or some other feed source, they could still create a suitable ration, he added.

“You can still fit it into a ration even if it’s the quality of wheat straw,” said Clarke.

Things are behind in the Dauphin area, too, said MAFRI forage specialist Pam Iwanchysko.

“The yield looks good, but the quality is not so good,” she said. “Most guys are just finishing up their first cut when in a typical year they’d be starting on their second cut.”

Only a lucky few have been able to bale up perfect hay.

“We’ve been telling producers to get their hay tested,” said Iwanchysko. “Even though it may be green, the quality certainly won’t be there and that could lead to nutritional problems down the road. Supplementation may be essential this year.”

The eastern side of the province may have fared better this summer. Esther Heppner of Heppner Farms near Altona said that their first cut of alfalfa came off in near-perfect condition with relative feed value numbers “well up there.” Their second cut is nearly finished up, and now they are waiting for their third cut.

“It has been an average to good year,” she said, adding that other hay producers in the east seem to be faring well, too.

Buying interest from their traditional dairy customers in Minnesota and Iowa is strong again this year, she added.

Chapman said he’s also seeing good U.S. demand, even though the Midwest drought has ended. That should continue as long as high corn and soybean prices push down the number of forage acres south of the border, he said.

“Prices might be a little softer than they were last year, but they shouldn’t be a whole lot different,” said Chapman.

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