First cutting hay yields down in Ohio, Pennsylvania

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guy baling hay
A farmer in Darlington, Pennsylvania bales hay on May 26, 2020.

When Joe Kirby started cutting fields to make hay, he noticed something was a little off. Yields were down in some of his fields. In some of his older fields, it was almost half of what it should be.

Kirby, of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, used to have a dairy, but now he just makes and sells hay. He’s concerned for people who rely on buying hay to feed their animals through the winter.

“If it’s not there, you better be the first one to buy it,” Kirby said.

He’s not the only one noticed yields are down. Extension educators with Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University also said yields are down throughout Ohio and western Pennsylvania.

The problem

Chris Penrose, OSU Extension educator in Morgan County, Ohio, said forages were hit hard by the two late frosts that happened in May. Matters were made worse by cool, cloudy and relatively dry conditions through the late spring.

“Things were just growing slow this year,” he said.

Penrose noticed in his own hay fields in southern Ohio that everything seemed to be maturing a couple weeks behind when it usually does.

The good news is that there have been an abundance of dry days, meaning farmers aren’t rushing to get hay up between rain storms. And because things were growing slower, the quality was still good. For many farmers, the first cutting is hard to get in on time because of inclement weather and planting other crops.

“This honestly is some of the better quality first cutting hay I’ve ever put up,” Penrose said. “There just wasn’t much of it.”

The solution

For those that buy hay, it’s not time to panic yet. Hay stocks nationwide are up 37% over last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture crop production report.

Hay stored on U.S. farms was at near-record lows last spring, at 14 million tons. That was the second lowest recorded number since record keeping began in 1950. This year, it’s up to 20.4 million tons.

Last May, Ohio farms had 180,000 tons of hay stored, USDA data shows. This year, stocks in Ohio were up to 220,000 tons of hay. Pennsylvania farms had 290,000 tons of hay in May 2019. This year, stored hay was up to 350,000 tons in Pennsylvania.

For those making hay, it’s not too late to do something to help later cuttings, but extension educators say don’t wait.

Justin Brackenrich, agronomy educator with Penn State Extension, recommends farmers make the best with what they have, instead of waiting for fields to grow up more. Waiting too long will decrease the forage quality of the cut, while depleting the tonnage of the second cut.

“Take it short and make up for it in the second and third cuts,” he said.

Fertilizing fields after hay has been taken off will improve the odds that later cuttings will produce better yields, Penrose said.

“You’ve got a lot of options now,” he said. “The longer you wait, the less you have.”

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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