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Drought Takes Toll On Hay, Pastures
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Heat and drought are claiming another Mississippi casualty as hay production is way down in most areas of the state.
While some parts of the state have received ample rain, most are parched and facing severe hay shortages this fall.
John Wilson, Itawamba County agricultural program assistant with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the commercial hay producers in his county are going to be at least one-third short on filling hay orders.
"We usually cut a lot of hay in August, but there's not anything now because nothing can grow," Wilson said. "What hay is cut is not very good quality. We haven't had a rain since just after July 4 except for a few showers in spots."
Producers in Itawamba County are culling cattle herds earlier than usual because they won't have the hay to feed them through the winter.
"I met with 41 beef producers this week and about 15 are already feeding hay," Wilson said. "They should be grazing until about October. We're going to be real short this winter."
Gary Miller, who produces hay on an 80-acre farm in Macon, said he has gotten just 1/2 inch of rain in five weeks.
"In May we got 1 1/2 inches of rain and we had our best production in June and July because we got showers and had enough moisture to get a good crop of hay off," Miller said. "We're in the critical stage in August."
While widely scattered showers have helped some hay producers in the area, Miller may have to purchase hay to fill some orders. The region has had three cuttings, the third of good quality, but Miller said the fourth cutting likely will be very short and of poor quality.
"We will lose money on this cutting," Miller said. "Fertilizing costs $72 an acre, but if we don't fertilize, we're not even going to get a fourth crop."
Armyworms are another problem on the dry fields, adding $5 per acre to production costs. If it rains before harvest, Miller said he may get 50 bales an acre on hybrid Bermudagrass.
"If we were to get a timely rain, we could get a couple weeks of growth out of the fields," Miller said. "We've got to make the decision to spend money on spray and hope we get rain so we can have some of a crop."
The outlook is not so grim farther south. Billy Joe Lee, Pearl River County agent, said production got off to a slow start but has been good since then.
"We're going to be somewhat short of hay because we didn't get the necessary rainfall at the beginning of summer to get the grass growing and toward the end of the growing season," Lee said. "We got sufficient rain through July until the first of August, but since then the drought is beginning to take an extensive toll on grasses."
Contact: John Wilson, (662) 862-3201; Billy Joe Lee, (601) 795-4224