July 22, 2013

Hay fever: Wet summer has mown down hay harvest

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Andy Baker said he should have more than 7,000 bales of hay harvested by now.

click image to enlarge

Charlie Kent, of Benton, drives his tractor as workers stack bales of hay while scrambling to get the crop in on Monday, before the next two days of rain. Kent said his hay crop is behind this year due to the weather. "Too much rain in the spring and not enough time to dry cut hay this summer," Kent said.

Staff photo by David Leaming

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Maynard Whitten checks the dryness of hay with a pitchfork that his son, Dwight, teds with a tractor Monday, at their Manchester farm. The Whittens have only cut 10 of the 60 acres of fields at the farm for hay this season. "Awful hard with rain constantly," Whitten said.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Additional Photos Below


1998: 10.32 inches

2006: 8.11

2012: 7.82

2013: 7.76

2009: 6.96

1954: 6.83

1972: 6.39

1973: 6.15

1982: 5.96

1959: 5.64

Source: NOAA's National Climatic Data Center

Instead, because of an unusually wet June, Baker has harvested only around 1,300 bales.

"Usually I'm all done first cut by the first week in July, and I haven't hardly got started," Baker, of Monmouth, said Monday.

Baker and other farmers have reported that the heavy, consistent rainfall in June and the beginning of July prevented them from harvesting hay, lowering the quality of the yields.

Farmers who also grow hay for a second cutting are hoping for more favorable conditions -- warm and dry -- in the coming weeks, but today's forecast calls for rain once again.

This past June was one of the wettest in central Maine history. Only four other years had more rainfall in June than the 7.76 inches that fell in Augusta, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center, which has been measuring data at the Augusta State Airport since 1948.

Of the top five wettest Junes, four came in the last decade. Last month never had a stretch of more than three days without rain.

Some farmers, who weren't able to bring machinery out on their wet fields all month, said it has been one of the worst seasons they can remember for harvesting hay.

And while farmers wait for the hay to be dry enough to cut and bale, the quality of the crop declines.

The nutrient level of the plant before it is harvested begins dropping in June, according to Rick Kersbergen, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

Kersbergen, an educator of sustainable dairy and forage systems out of the Waldo County office, said nutrients move from the stocks and leaves to the seeds when the plant matures from a vegetative to reproductive state.

"Once the hay crop quality goes down, the only thing that's going to help is the second crop being of good quality," he said.

The effect of the lower nutrient level may be felt by farmers raising livestock such as horses, dairy cows and beef cattle.

A decreased nutrient level means farmers will have to supplement hay feeding with more grains, which are largely imported from out of state, Kersbergen said.

Jeremiah Smith, owner of Clemedow Farm in Monmouth, said the growing season from the middle of May to the middle of July has been the wettest one he can remember in his 57 years on the farm.

He grows hay for his 100 dairy cows, 60 replacement cows and nine beef cows.

Smith, who sells milk to Oakhurst Dairy, said he'll likely feel the impact of the lesser quality of the hay that is being harvested.

"It will mean less milk when we feed it in the winter or it will mean a higher grain bill because we'll have to feed a higher protein grain to make up for the poor quality of forage," he said.

Smith estimated lesser quality of the hay caused by the delay in harvesting will cost the farm $3,000 to $5,000 in increased grain costs from the fall to spring.

"But it's still kind of too early to tell because if we get a second crop, we'll have time to make up for the loss," he said.

Charlie Kent, a farmer in Benton, drove his tractor as workers stacked bales of hay on Monday, trying to get the crop in before the expected rain over the next two days.

Kent said his hay crop is behind this year due to the weather conditions.

"Too much rain in the spring and not enough time to dry cut hay this summer," he said.

Kent depends on good weather for his hay because his racing horse buyers expect high-quality hay, he said.

Maynard Whitten, who owns a farm in Manchester, said rain has prevented him from baling his farm's first, and only, harvest of hay.

"Rain, rain, rain. There's just no way of getting it in," Whitten said. "I don't know anyone that's had luck getting much in."

He said it's difficult to predict how much less hay he'll be able to harvest or how the quality will be affected.

"All I can tell you is it's going to be less," Whitten said.

Logan Johnston, of Oaklands Farm in Gardiner, said hay harvesting had been going well until constant rain showers in the middle of June brought it to halt.

Johnston, who raises cattle for beef, said he usually harvests the equivalent of a little more than 10,000 bales a year for his cattle and to sell.

He said he usually has finished his first cutting by July 4, but he still hasn't accomplished that yet and might not bother. Johnson said he could just wait to cut the second growth instead.

"Most likely, everybody's yields are going to be down this summer, and the quality won't be quite what we're used to," he said.

"The bottom line is it's been really tough," Johnston added. "We could have perfect weather from here on out. We may have a terrific second cutting. I just have no idea."

Morning Sentinel staff photographer David Leaming contributed to this report.

Paul Koenig -- 621-5663


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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Andy Baker collects square bales of hay July 15 from a field in Monmouth during his first cut of the season. Baker said this time last year, he had put up 6,800 bales but this year, due to rain, he has only picked about 1,300 bales. "This is the worst year ever," Baker remarked.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

Andy Baker

Staff photo by Andy Molloy


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