Soon Time to Make Hay in the Sun

First Cut of Hay Needs Weather to Break

Local hay farmers are keeping a watchful eye to the weather forecast these days as a very good first growth of grass is in the fields. No wonder as we are only 20 days into May and have already measured a whopping 5-6 inches of rain. (4” is normal for an entire month).

Now, all hay farmers want is a nice 4 day stretch of dry sunny weather. With any luck, they should get that dry period over the holiday weekend.

Mason County Extension Agent Rodney Wallbrown is optimistic for a healthy first cut. “The hay is in full bloom and starting to go to head. If we get that dry spell over the holiday weekend, the tractors will be out in force.”

Last year’s hay season was nothing short of a huge disappointment with an average first cutting at best then next to nothing from the second cut. The intense summer drought saw hay pastures go dormant in June and stay brown and parched through September. Needless to say there was no third cut.

As if things weren’t hard enough on the hay farmer going into 2008, the price of fertilizer has skyrocketed to the point where some farmers have decided not to give their fields that booster shot of protein. “The price of fertilizer has doubled even tripled this year”, Rodney told me. “That means a farmer must weigh what an extra thousand dollars per acre in fertilizer will mean on the extra yield he may get”, Wallbrown added.

In fact, I placed a second call to Rodney this afternoon to confirm that fertilizer is running 1,000 dollars per ton with a ton capable of covering only about 1 acre. Given the poor yield last year, it is no wonder hay farmers are a bit gun-shy in shelling out that extra cash on fertilizer.

But Columbia U economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs reminds us of the value of fertilizing. "Putting fertilizer on the ground on a one-acre plot can raise an extra ton of output", Dr. Sachs says when relating corn and wheat yields to fertilizer laid down.

On the worldwide commodity trading markets, fertilizers with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium have been on fire as the growing needs to feed the world’s burgeoning population has led to a shortage of fertilizer. Throw in the ethanol effect whereby crops are grown not for food but to supplement bio fuels and the need for more fertilizer is overwhelming.

As Monday's blog touched on, a temperate summer with a decent dousing of afternoon thunderstorms seems in the cards. That tells me that fields, fertilized or not, a good growing season will lead to a bountiful harvest come September.

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