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Fodder for Thought

Hay Yields And Forage Decrease Are Widespread

Mild winter and early spring cuts hay yields in many areas. How's yours?

What started out as a less than ideal spring growing season is continuing to bring headaches to forage growers across the nation.

Here in my state of Kentucky, University of Kentucky Extension forage specialist Ray Smith reports that many hay growers across the state are bringing in lower-than-normal first cutting yields.

These hay yield decreases are attributed to a number of factors. The unusually mild winter and the higher-than-normal temperatures in early spring which I spoke of in an earlier post caused many forages to mature more quickly. Growth patterns of plants were further affected by the drastic temperature swings and late frosts in many parts of the country. Smith’s explanations for the lower hay yields and forage yeilds are a lack of rain and lack of fertilizer due to high costs of nitrogen.

Further discussion with other hay growers from states like Ohio, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana, Iowa, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania show a similar pattern in hay yields across the country. Surprisingly enough, USDA reported 6% higher than expected hay stocks remaining on U.S. farms as of May 1st. This is due mainly to lower than expected feeding of hay from December through April, most likely caused by the ability of livestock producers to begin grazing in light of mild winter and early spring weather.

Currently the US Drought Monitor reports a large portion of the U.S. is classified in a status of moderate to exceptional drought. Even parts of Western Kentucky are under “severe” drought status. With this inconsistent rainfall, one can only speculate that yields for second cutting hay crops in these regions will also be less than desirable.

Will these low hay yields ultimately lead to a hay shortage in upcoming months? It’s hard to say. But if growing conditions do not improve soon growers may very well be facing some hard decisions.

I’d like to know how things are in your part of the country. Are hay yields above, below, or about normal? Do you anticipate the need to purchase extra hay to supplement lower yields? If you mainly graze your forage, are you noticing slower plant growth cycles? How are you adjusting your rotations to compensate?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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