Low Michigan hay supply has producers eager to begin first cutting

The first hay cutting of the season will soon be underway for farmers in Mecosta and Osceola counties. (Herald Review file photo)
The first hay cutting of the season will soon be underway for farmers in Mecosta and Osceola counties. (Herald Review file photo)

MECOSTA COUNTY — Hay producers throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties are eager to get the first hay cutting of the season underway to replenish depleted stores from the 2017 harvesting season.

According to Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension grazing and field crop educator, the 2017 hay crop supply in Michigan was significantly diminished due to weather conditions throughout the state and the rest of the country.

He explained a portion of the hay supply was sent to ranchers in the western plains states who were devastated by wildfires in March, and in July more of the supply was sent to ranchers in the Dakotas who were affected by drought.

According to Lindquist, although these events alone did not significantly deplete the 2017 supply, in mid summer south and central Michigan experienced unusually dry weather, while the northern Lower Peninsula and eastern Upper Peninsula experienced a surplus of rain. Both conditions made it nearly impossible to harvest dry hay.

Lindquist explained the decreased 2017 hay supply has caused a very low carryover into 2018, which in turn has caused an increase in hay prices. He said prices may decrease throughout the season depending on the weather and how well the hay crop does.

"This cutting, it's important that we build stocks back up," Lindquist said.

Phil Kaatz, MSU Extension forage educator, said the inventory shortage from the previous year caused farmers to have to buy feed instead, which is a greater cost to them, and it is important the farmers harvest the hay they need.

The timing of the first cutting is important as it will determine if the subsequent cuttings are delayed throughout the season, Kaatz explained.

He added the timing of the first cut also is important because it determines the quality and the yield. Specifically, if hay is cut too early, the quality will be higher, but there will be a lower yield, and on the other hand if the hay is cut too late, the yield may be higher, but the quality will be lower.

"There's always that balance, especially on the first cut because quality can go down rapidly," Kaatz said, adding the animals a farmer intends to feed with the hay also affects the quality needed.

For example, he explained high-producing milking cows need a high quality alfalfa, which is best provided by alfalfa cut at the mid bud stage, while the quality needs of a 18 to 24-month-old dairy heifer are better met with more mature alfalfa.

Lindquist said some farmers in southern Michigan just started harvesting and people in Mecosta and Osceola counties should begin shortly.

He added the hay crop in Michigan currently looks good due to a decent amount of rainfall and for the crop to continue to thrive a balance of rainy days and dry, sunny days will be needed.

"It's possible to have an above normal yield," Lindquist said. "Time will tell."