MECOSTA, OSCEOLA COUNTIES — After an unusually dry summer, hay producers in Mecosta and Osceola counties are facing a low feed supply for the winter.

"Farmers are scrambling to make sure they have enough feed to make it through the winter," said Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension grazing and field crops educator.

Travis Murray, county executive director for the Mecosta County Farm Service Agency, said in a typical season farmers will produce three or four cuttings for alfalfa hay, and two or three cuttings for grass hay. But due to low levels of rain since June, farmers are lucky to have gotten a second cutting, he said.

According to Lindquist, the first hay cutting for farmers this year provided an average yield due to residual moisture in the ground from the winter and spring, but this will not be enough to sustain the feed supply for long.

Although the hay cutting season will extend into September and October, Lindquist said the third cutting is expected to be anywhere from 40 to 70 percent below normal.

He added the moderate increase in rainfall over the past couple weeks could help the hay crop marginally. However, because the summer growth season is nearing its end with cooler nights and fewer hours of sunlight, the impact is not expected to be great.

Still, Murray said he is hopeful the recent above average rain and high heat will allow farmers to at least yield a second or third cutting.

Lindquist explained the low hay supply has led to an increase in feed prices for dairy and beef farmers because the demand for feed from outside sources has gone up as farmers have been unable to produce enough hay on their own.

"The worst thing for farmers is our feed storage, or anything we had in excess, is gone," Murray said. "A lot of guys have used up their supply already and will have to pay more for feed."

Murray said this is the third or fourth year of a low hay supply for farmers throughout the area and many are becoming financially stressed due to the rising prices and depleted supply.

Last year, 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, which made it difficult to harvest dry hay, Lindquist explained previously.

These weather conditions, in addition to Michigan hay producers sending a portion of the crop to ranchers in the western plains states who were devastated by wildfires, and to ranchers in the Dakotas who were affected by drought, led to a significantly diminished supply going into the beginning of the 2018 cutting season.

"I have not seen a time as tough as this before," Murray said.