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Farmers bracing for another hay shortage season in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The abundance of wet weather in 2018 has created a shortage of a hay for farmers to feed their livestock through spring. Shortages have been felt on farms in southwestern Ohio to those along the Ohio-West Virginia border.

Mike Goodsen of Van Wert County said 2018 was one of the worst hay shortages he has seen in many years. “The problem has been compounded by the fact that wet weather makes it more difficult to store enough nutritious hay,” he said. “We’re having to rely more on buying nutritious grain to help feed our livestock properly.”

He was able to put enough hay aside to feed his livestock through this summer. “The wet weather did, however, affect the quality of my hay,” he explained. “I haven’t been able to sell as much hay to other local farmers because of the need to keep backup supplies for my own livestock.

“In addition, the rainy conditions last summer made it difficult to find a three-day stretch of dry weather in which to cut and bale hay properly.”

Dale Sampson, a farmer who has owned a feed store along the Ohio-West Virginia border since 1960, said the unusually wet local weather over the past two years has made it much more difficult to produce good-quality hay.

“The past two years have been a disaster,” Sampson said. “It’s been one of the worst hay shortages I’ve seen in many years. This problem is compounded by the fact that wet weather makes it more difficult to store enough nutritious hay. We’re having to stretch our resources to keep our livestock healthy.

“The problem this past year is the hay was moldy because farmers weren’t able to get it dry, and it was a little bit tougher when they baled it.”

Ohio State University forage expert Rory Lewandowski is all too familiar with the effect weather had on forages across Ohio the past two growing seasons, and is worried 2019 may not be much better. The deluge of moisture already this winter has Lewandowski and others worried.

“Hay can have between two and five cuttings per year, but with all this wet weather there’s the potential for a lot of freezing and thawing going on, and that’s especially not good news for alfalfa,” Lewandowski said.

“Farmers will have stands that will die and not be productive. With some grasses it’s not the same issue, but with grasses we worry about wet saturated soils over a long period of time, and this leads to root rot. Plants can suffocate under all this standing water.”

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reported hay stocks on Ohio farms in June 2018 were at 280,000 tons, down 33 percent from a year earlier. All hay stored on U.S. farms last June were down 36 percent from the previous year.

Lewandowski said producers had to make one or more cuttings of hay to accumulate supplies for the winter of 2018-19, adding that carryover stocks from the 2018 growing season determined the forage management strategies that will be necessary to carry supplies through to the 2019 production season.

Many producers in 2018 lost a cutting of hay (some, two) due to weather conditions across the state. Quality, as well as quantity, has been adversely affected.

“Obviously, you want to keep that crop growing, but when it’s time to cut, one needs dry days to cut and dry the bales safely,” Lewandowski pointed out.

John Grimes, OSU extension beef programs coordinator, offered several tips to avoid forage shortages. “If producers are concerned that hay supplies will be tight to carry them through to the next growing season, there are a variety of strategies to supplement or preserve existing supplies.”

Stockpiling is a time-tested method to take advantage of the late summer-fall growing conditions and obtain high-quality pasture for fall and early winter grazing.

“Consider grasses that will be responsive to nitrogen and hold their quality into the winter,” he said. “Fescue has been the most commonly used grass in the region for stockpiling, as well as Kentucky bluegrass and orchard grass.”

Second, he suggested planting a winter annual, such as winter varieties of wheat, triticale, cereal rye, or ryegrass, in the fall. “Winter small grain cereals commonly yield about two to three tons per acre. Harvesting the forage as baled silage as opposed to dry hay will ensure a higher-quality forage for feeding.”

Third, Grimes suggested securing supplies early, as hay prices will be more economical when purchased outside of the normal winter feeding season. He recommended purchasing hay by the weight and not by the bale, to ensure a true value for one’s purchase.

“When selecting the storage location for all cuttings of hay this season, think about how the hay will be fed next winter,” he said. “Arrange the accessibility of the different types of cuttings of hay based on the various production groups.

“Account for potential weather challenges and the probable location where animals will be fed next winter. Make sure to document location of the different types, cuttings, and quality of hay being stored.”