Wet weather causes problems with hay harvest

Rainfall and high humidity this summer have made it hard for farmers to harvest hay, said a Purdue Extension forage specialist.

“Some farmers got their hay mowed, but then they lost yield and quality when it rained,” Keith Johnson said. “Others did not get it cut in timely fashion, so the quality of their hay went down.”

The heat and humidity have caused more problems than normal, Johnson said. Because high moisture can cause mold in the hay and other bacteria and fungi can form and cause combustion, it is important to monitor hay after harvest and to store it properly.

Part of proper storage means farmers need to monitor the crop’s moisture content. Small rectangular bales should have a moisture content of less than 20 percent, while large rectangular bales and large round bales should be closer to 18 percent moisture content when baled.

Hay can be packaged at slightly higher moisture levels if farmers have the proper equipment to apply propionic acid, a preservative, at baling.

Hay producers also need to be sure the mower-conditioner is properly set for each field harvested. A mower-conditioner increases the hay-drying rate as compared to use of a mower without mechanical conditioning.

“Farmers using the forage on the farm might want to consider investing in a single bale wrapper or an in-line tuber,” Johnson said. “An in-line tuber lines large round bales in a row and automatically wraps them with several layers of plastic. Moisture content at wrapping is recommended to be around 50 percent. The crop is stored in the wrapped plastic as silage.”

Producers also should continue to monitor alfalfa for the presence of potato leafhopper and make forage testing a priority as there is likely to be some lower quality first cutting hay this year.

After harvest, Johnson recommends that soil be tested for fertility level and pH if it has not been tested for several years. Fertilizer and lime application can then be based on the soil test information received from the laboratory.

For more information, contact Keith Johnson at johnsonk@purdue.edu .

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