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Rains Challenge State's Hay Crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- You've got to make hay while the sun shines, but Mississippi producers have not seen many clear skies at key hay cutting times.
Despite a late start, many state farmers were completing the second or third cutting of the hay season by the middle of August with hopes weather will allow one more. Mississippi's hay production probably will reach just 90 percent of normal levels.
Dr. Pat Bagley, head of the North Mississippi Research Center in Verona, said a very wet spring postponed the first hay cutting about a month until the middle of June for much of the state.
"The tonnage was up some for the first cutting because we essentially cut two crops at once, but the quality was down because of the hay's maturity," Bagley said.
Bagley said the best hay crops are typically the first and the last cuttings. Shorter, cooler days tend to produce better quality forage, but less quantity because it grows slower.
Rick Simmonds has been producing hay for 20 years on his land in Noxubee County. Rains this year have made it the hardest year he's ever had for making hay.
"I never got caught up putting up hay," Simmonds said. "Since the middle of May, we've always had a field that needs cutting."
The soaked ground made it difficult to get haying equipment in the fields without rutting them. Rains also damaged the cut hay and washed away fertilizers added to fields. However, the rains were very good for growing his bermudagrass.
"We're going to get our four cuttings this year, despite a little late start on the season," Simmonds said. "We're making as much hay as we ever did, maybe more, but the quality is hurting when it gets rained on after being cut."
Hay prices around the state are average for this time of the year. Simmonds is getting $2.75 per square bale of good quality hay. Bagley said in-state sales are averaging $20 a round bale bought in the field.
Bagley recommended people buy hay now if they know they'll need it this winter.
"Everybody who has hay feeds the best hay first, so the longer the winter gets, the worse the quality of hay available, and the higher the price," Bagley said.
Fertilizing after each cutting is essential for good production.
"For maximum hay production on a good four-week schedule, growers must add nitrogen. Adding little or no nitrogen means they will cut hay every eight to 10 weeks," Bagley said.
"Non-fertilized hay has 6 to 8 percent crude protein, while a well-fertilized pasture runs 14 to 16 percent crude protein," Bagley said. "That means you don't have to supplement the cows in the winter with protein. It's much cheaper to put nitrogen on the pasture than to supplement cows."
Bagley said producers should sample each cutting to determine the quality of the hay. Each farmer has a $100 yearly state credit for testing, allowing three samples to be taken at no cost. The test results show hay quality and what supplements specific groups of cattle need.
Bill Maily, Hinds County extension agent, said his county is expecting a slightly above average crop and hopes for a fifth cutting. Analysis of the county's hay also looks quite good.
"The quality of the first cutting was a little lower because it got wet after it was cut," Maily said. "But the second, third and fourth cuttings look good. Most area farmers will not have to feed too many supplements to their cattle this winter."