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Hay-producing areas report below average season

published: September 2nd 2020
by: Adam Russell
source: Texas AgriLife Today

A bevy of issues amounted to below-average yields for most hay producers in East and Central Texas, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Serviceexperts

Vanessa Corriher-Olson, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension forage specialist, Overton, said many hay producers missed out on multiple cuttings due to weather conditions or lower yields due to pasture conditions or pest infestations.

“I think we’re a little lower on production than we’re used to,” she said. “A lot of hay producers in East Texas have had production issues this season.”

Corriher-Olson said the hay season started later than usual due to cooler temperatures in May, which delayed Bermuda grass growth almost a month. AgriLife Extension recommends cutting Bermuda grass every 21-28 days, which is typically the peak quality for fertilized fields that receive average rains.

“This year, many producers didn’t get their first cutting until June,” she said. “I think there was an evening in May where the temperatures dipped into the 30s, and Bermuda grass doesn’t produce significant growth until nighttime temperatures are consistently 60 degrees for several days.”

Following the late start, Corriher-Olson said she received a higher-than-usual call volume from producers regarding thinning Bermuda grass stands and dead spots in hay meadows. There were also more calls about crab grass control options from producers.

Then a summer dry spell set in, she said.

“There has been some intermittent, scattered rain, but we’ve definitely had less rainfall than in recent years,” she said. “Most producers got three cuttings, but many who only got two may not get a third if we don’t get good rains from now until November. Even then, pasture production will depend on fertilizer application, and producers are hesitant to invest time and money unless they see a high probability of rain in the forecast.”

Corriher-Olson said expected rains from Hurricane Laura did not materialize for much of the state. She expected, given the extended dry conditions, armyworm infestations could follow those storms. So far, most armyworm activity has been sporadic, and mass pasture casualties have been avoided.

“Rains and cooler temperatures could change things quickly,” she said. “And it could be critical for any last cutting to be aware of conditions that might bring armyworms out.”

Winter hay stocks and forage

Corriher-Olson said she doesn’t have a good estimate for where winter hay stocks sit for most East Texas producers because of COVID-19 restriction

“Hopefully, cattle producers who haven’t hit their typical bale counts are looking at planting winter forages this fall,” she said.

Corriher-Olson said there are a few options for pastures if they miss rains and potential yields aren’t enough to warrant baling. Producers can graze it out or leave it standing.

“Leaving it standing is a good thing because you haven’t depleted the root structure,” she said. “That will help carry the forage going into next season, and it provides some competition against winter weeds. Excess thatch or stubble height can be handled with fire or shredding in January or early February while grasses are still dormant.”

In Central Texas, hay production was similarly short for producers without irrigation, said Shane McLellan, AgriLife Extension agent, McClennan County.

Conditions were too wet early in the season for producers to clear ryegrass, McLellan said. Quality in those pastures was not great by the time producers made the first cutting.

Wet conditions cost producers one cutting, and a lack of rain will likely mean a poor final cutting, he said.

“Producers got two cuttings, maybe three in some cases,” McLellan said. “Irrigated pastures got four to five quality cuttings, but weather conditions and timing of fertilization and spraying weeds were big factors for success in June and July.”

Conditions south, north and west of McClennan County were even drier, he said.

“Usually north of us picks up more lines of storms and is wetter, but that didn’t happen this year,” McLellan said. “And as you go west it changes quickly. Even western parts of McClennan County received 10-15 inches less than my pastures did. There was a pretty distinct fault line in rain differential.”

McLellan said cattle operations west of McClennan County were buying hay at better-than-expected prices already.

“Some areas did better than others,” he said. “I’ve got more hay than ever, but I could’ve produced more without weather delays and not getting fertilizer and herbicides applied when they needed to be.”

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