There is good news for livestock producers: Alfalfa crops this year should provide quality hay and sufficient supplies for the winter.
Although some alfalfa-producing areas struggled with wet spring weather that hampered early cutting, the majority of producers seem optimistic for both the amount and quality of hay.
Wisconsin is one such area that had good hay-making weather this summer. Many Wisconsin-area producers have taken their fourth cuttings and finished for the season, especially in the southern part of the state, according to Dr. Dan Undersander, research and extension forage agronomist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Alfalfa yields in most of Wisconsin have been above average this growing season, which will result in a good inventory of supplies this year. He added that the increase in the beef cow herd will likely offset the increased inventory of hay.
Undersander said he has noticed there isn’t much low-quality hay being sold, which leads him to believe there is an adequate supply of medium- and high-quality hay.
Tom Crave — who owns a 1,500-cow dairy and farm, as well as a cheese plant with his four brothers near Waterloo, Wisconsin — said he took his fourth and final cutting August 12-14, a week earlier than usual, but decided not to take a fifth cutting as he doesn’t like to leave the ground too bare over the winter.
He added that he is about a week away from chopping corn for silage, also a little earlier than usual.
He attributed the earlier dates to the relatively dry spring that enabled farmers in his area to begin planting and finish without rain delays.
Crave said he has gotten very good quality hay this year, in fact, he has gotten the best yields he has seen in the past two or three years.
Depending on spring delays, most producers in eastern Nebraska are taking their third cuts, while a few taking a fourth cutting at this time would most likely be using a five-cut system for dairy quality hay, according to Dr. Bruce Anderson, professor of agronomy and extension forage specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In spite of some cases of weather damage, yields this year in Nebraska will be at least average or better. Although there will be some dairy-quality hay, overall quantities should be decreased because of the challenges from the wet spring. Hay suitable for beef operations will be in good supply, he said.
Kevin Adamson, farm manager for Art Anderson who grows about 1,800 acres of alfalfa annually in west-central Nebraska near Arcadia, said he is just about to take the fourth cutting for the operation.
Alfalfa quality near Arcadia has been good, but Adamson attributed that to being drier than other areas in Nebraska which received surplus precipitation. In fact, he said they have been irrigating all crops since the first week of July.
Yields on irrigated alfalfa have been average to above average, while yields on dryland alfalfa have been pretty poor, he added.
Problems with moisture in eastern states may hold up prices a little bit, Undersander said, but prices may fall a bit lower during winter. Lower grain prices may drag down hay prices a bit. Hay pricing may depend on hay silage as well.
“If there is high quality silage, there will be less demand for hay, but low-to-medium quality silage will increase the demand for hay,” he added.
Crave said he believes the abundance of feed will cause hay prices to soften somewhat from where they have been the last few years.
Anderson said there will be some downward pressure on prices, not just on average or lower quality hay because of the increased supply, but also on dairy-quality hay.
Adamson said he believes there will be sufficient hay for the winter, adding that hay prices will be down for winter months unless a really hard, snowy winter pressures supplies.
DTN received the following reports from alfalfa producers in several other states.
-John Moore, northeastern Illinois, reports too much rain until mid-July, then dry weather. He is between his second and third cuttings, and just finished his first cutting on August 12. Hay cut early that regrew on wet soils did very poorly on second cutting, but later alfalfa looks better. Yield and quality have been terrible on first cutting, but especially on early second cutting regrowth. Moore commented that a neighbor nearly lost 60 acres of alfalfa to mold and fungal disease. He plans to try one more cut in October if he gets good weather in order to fill his contracts.
-Crawford McFetridge, western New York, said producers in New York are ranging anywhere from two to four cuttings so far. Those who cut early are on their third or fourth cutting, but areas with too many spring rains may still be on second or third cuttings. Cool, wet weather left alfalfa a little shorter in height this summer and yield is down due to shorter size and cloudy days. Quality, for the most part, has been good.
-Dan Hiller, Hardin County, Ohio, said a lot of late or post-bloom hay has been put up in the last half of July, but that it is very poor quality due to water damage. Recent weeks have been very dry and Hiller expects the next cutting will be short. He said good hay will be in short supply in his area.
-Doug Zillinger, north-central Kansas, is finishing the third cutting on old-crop alfalfa and starting the second on new crop. He said rain delays, drought and irregular cutting times are leading yields and quality at about a third of what he normally sees. He does not expect a lot of good hay in the area.
-Jeff Litrell, Chatfield, Minnesota, said he is just starting on his second cutting as the weather in southeast Minnesota has been semi-dry and cooler than normal. On his first cutting, he said he traded quality for quantity and expects the second cutting to be his best-quality alfalfa. He said he expects good-quality hay to be hard to come by due to rain.