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State Growers Reap Short Hay Harvest
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
VERONA -- Scorching temperatures that have reduced hay yields and quality in some areas of the state are providing good conditions for harvest.
"Our growers are busy making hay while the sun shines," said Charles Fitts, Chickasaw County agent. "The dry weather is providing an optimum time for hay harvesting and curing."
Recent reports estimate Mississippi's 1995 hay production to total 1.65 million tons, down 12 percent from last year.
Dr. Pat Bagley, head of the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said the amount and timing of
rainfall is the deciding factor in hay yields.
"In areas with dry conditions, the crop is short," Bagley said. "But a few areas have had adequate rainfall, and the crop is in good shape."
Mississippi's hay acreage for harvest is expected to total 750,000 acres with a yield of 2.2 tons per acre. Growers have harvested about 90 percent of the state's warm season hay.
Bagley said recent hay prices to growers have been up about 6 percent as hay supply is short, but prices will be held down by low cattle prices.
Mike Skipper, Winston County agent, said hay yields are drastically short compared with the past few years.
"The drought situation this year has caused a 25 to 30 percent reduction in hay yields," Skipper said. "Our growers are nearly 80 percent through with harvest, and so far the quality of the crop is about average."
Quality also is a concern for growers who have received adequate rainfall.
"Early rains have helped boost yields, but some growers have left the crop in the field too long waiting for dry weather to harvest," Fitts said. "This has reduced quality in some cases."
Attacks from fall armyworms have turned many of the state's later season hay fields into battlegrounds.
Armyworms leave growers with two management choices -- spraying fields or harvesting the crop early to prevent damage.
"Growers harvesting early may see reduced yields, but higher quality," Bagley said. "But if armyworms get into fields and damage the forage crop, both quality and yields drop."
Most state growers have chosen to cut hay early, stopping the armyworms short.
"We've had some scattered outbreaks of fall armyworms in the hay, but most of our growers were in tune with the attacks and just cut the fields a little early to eliminate the pest population," Skipper said.