Rainy summer likely to cause hay supply & quality issues going into winter


ELKMONT, Ala. – Mother Nature is helping some farmers, but not all, this summer. Due to a lack of consecutive dry days, The Alabama Farmers Federation says the availability and quality of hay will be a problem going into winter.

The problem won’t be visible at any grocery store, but it will be on the farm. Hay is grown to feed cattle and other farm animals. Horse owners typically want good-quality hay to keep their horses healthy. According to farmers, the longer hay goes uncut, it loses quality.

Jack Gilbert is one of the few farmers across Alabama to get at least one cut of hay in.

“We were lucky. We got our hay put up the last week of May. Which was a full week of sunshine. Since then, there’s only been a 4 or 5-day window to put up hay. None other than that,” said Gilbert.

Outside of horse owners potentially having issues finding quality hay, Gilbert says the impact on cows isn’t a major problem.

“If you are feeding it to cows, the cows really don’t know it’s too mature.”

If the hay is wet after getting cut and stored, that’s a different problem. Cows are not fans of that. The hay itself is crucial when it gets colder and fields get muddier.

“Usually in the winter months, the energy needs of our livestock are greater just because of colder weather and trying to stay warm. They are moving around their pasture more. Having a high-quality feed for them is important from that standpoint,” said Kim Mullenix, an associate professor and extension beef systems specialist at Auburn University.

The Alabama Farmers Federation says North Alabama hay growers can typically get two cuts in when they plant. Most have one or no cuts done so far due to weather. The southern portions of the state are also seeing major impacts.

“Producers can typically get multiple cuttings. Sometimes up to five in a season (Southern portions of the state). Right now because of the rain, many of them have barely made a first cutting,” said Mullenix.

Many cattle farmers grow their own hay. Cattle farmers are also still dealing with pandemic impacts at processing plants. The farmers have plenty of cattle, but the prices from the plants are still not great due to less demand.

“With the drought in the west, I think some of those numbers are going to go down. The projections now 600,000 or 700,000 fewer calves next year than this year,” said Gilbert.

The Alabama Farmers Federation says despite the pandemic, beef and cattle production across the state has remained strong.

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