Forage Harvest Trails the Weather

5/31/2014 7:00 AM
By Philip Gruber Staff Writer

As May comes to a close, spring forage harvesters in Pennsylvania find themselves in a familiar position: behind and watching the sky.

David Fink of Heidel Hollow Farm in Germansville, Lehigh County, had cut some hay but had not finished harvesting it as of Tuesday.

“With the colder weather and the freeze that we had on our alfalfa, it set the alfalfa maturity back a week to 10 days,” said Fink, vice president of the National Hay Association.

The early May freeze will actually be helpful with the alfalfa, as the immature legume will now be of exceptional quality, he said.

Fink’s orchardgrass is ahead of his alfalfa but is a little on the short side, which may reduce the orchardgrass tonnage. Other grasses, especially timothy, are looking good, he said.

Penn State’s research plots in Landisville were harvested May 19 and 20, a week later than normal, said Marvin Hall, the university’s forage specialist.

Hall said the plots in Rock Springs were to be harvested this week, also a week late.

Double-cropping farmers should have already taken off their forages by now, as it is too late now. “They would have sacrificed a little of bit of yield on alfalfa” to get the corn in, Hall said.

On the other side of State College, alfalfa balage producer Don Myers planned to start mowing last Saturday.

“As soon as we get decent weather, we’ll be harvesting,” said Myers, of Spring Mills.

Myers was expecting three-quarters of a normal yield until the second full week of May, when summery weather prompted strong growth.

The alfalfa started to bud at the usual time for his area, he said.

He is more optimistic now. “I don’t think we’ll have a normal yield, but it’s not going to be as bad as I feared it would be,” Myers said.

Myers said it was hard to predict how this spring’s crop would turn out because this winter was so different from all of the previous ones he has experienced. The winter started cold without snow, and then the cold lingered into April and May.

“This one didn’t want to end,” he said of the winter.

The same week that Myers’ alfalfa was getting its growth spurt, Dwane Miller was seeing unimproved orchardgrass begin to head in Schuylkill County.

The rest of the orchardgrass headed last week, said Miller, an Extension educator.

Like farmers elsewhere, Schuylkill farmers have already chopped and taken off their rye for feed, and some have been mowing and bleaching rye for straw, he said.

The rain late last week, though, likely pushed the alfalfa and orchardgrass harvest to the end of the month for many farmers, he said.

Cereal rust mites were active in timothy fields in May. “We were advising people to spray to control that insect pest,” Miller said.

Overall, “I would say we’re running a little bit behind,” especially compared with Lancaster County, where some farmers had taken off a first cutting before the rain, Miller said.

If the weather allows a first cutting, it would be good to make one now to set up a timely harvest schedule for later in the season, he said.

Weather certainly did not permit much field work in the Reading area last week, when golf ball-size hail pelted the area.

Mena Hautau, a Penn State Extension educator in Berks County, said the field crops team has only received one report of crop damage from that storm, which was in small grains.

“If you had a wheat field, you probably just have stalks,” she said.

If Reading-area farmers had forage damaged as badly as the foliage at the county ag center, their crop insurance agents have probably gotten a call, she said.

The denuded trees and flowers make the area look like fall. “All the vegetation’s on the ground,” she said.

Damaged corn may be able to regenerate after the hail. The corn in southern Berks County is largely in the three-leaf stage, when the growing point of the plant is still underground, Hautau said.

Speaking before the hailstorm, David Sattazahn of nearby Womelsdorf said the triticale-annual rye mix he cut midmonth looked good.

It was only the second year Sattazahn had grown triticale, but he said he was pleased with the quality and volume he got. In the week and a half before harvest, the annual rye got as tall as the triticale.

A rainstorm pushed his cutting back a few days, “so we did see a head or two that had emerged,” he said.

The feed was for heifers, so he was not too concerned about the heading.

As for alfalfa, “we’ll be making that as soon as we have a weather opportunity,” Sattazahn said.

While the late spring has frustrated many growers, it has been a benefit to Sattazahn’s father, Dennis, who markets forages.

Some of the Plain customers needed forages to get by, Dennis Sattazahn said.

Other parts of the country have run into tight hay supplies as well, said Fink, of Lehigh County.

In general, farmers east of the Mississippi carried over a lot of hay this year, but those west of the Mississippi, in states like California, are facing a shortage, he said.

Add in strong export demand, and farmers with hay to sell could see decent prices, he said.

“Good quality dairy hay in particular will be in strong demand” because of the strong milk market, Fink said.

Lancaster-area buyers were paying $55 to $460 per ton for alfalfa hay, while mixed hay was selling for $70 to $410, according to this week’s Ag Market News report.

Those numbers are way up from this time last year, when alfalfa was going for $120 to $200, and mixed hay for $75 to $200, in the Lancaster area.


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7/29/2014 | Last Updated: 1:15 PM