ROBESON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Richard Burkhart finished unloading 700 bales of his first cutting of hay with his farm crew on Monday evening.
“I believe that this is the nicest hay that I’ve put away in a long time,” said Burkhart, of Robeson Township in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
Burkhart began making his first cutting of orchardgrass and permanent rye about three weeks earlier. Some of the forage’s growth was delayed because of cool temperatures, he said.
According to Penn State Extension, the cool, wet spring slowed the growth of perennial and annual grasses throughout the state. Cloudy days hamper photosynthesis, which in turn slows the plant’s maturation and results in reduced forage height.
The slow growth also meant that the plants didn’t get a chance to bulk up on the less digestible forms of fiber, so that’s good news for forage quality.
Now that the weather has warmed up, the hay is drying in good time. Burkhart was able to make most of his hay in about a week’s time.
In nearby Hamburg, Tyler Hess has been soaking up the sunshine while farming his 350 acres, making hay and doing other field work.
In his region of Berks County, the first cutting usually happens around May 20, but Hess said he wasn’t able to start until May 25.
Across Pennsylvania, the first cutting of alfalfa is nearly done, and the second cutting has just started. The first cutting of other hay is about 60% complete, according to USDA.
Hess has been mowing most of his alfalfa and orchardgrass fields. He’s almost done with the alfalfa and will soon switch over to timothy grass.
The hot and dry weather has been a relief compared to last year, when frequent rain kept many farmers out of their fields.
“If we got two nice days of weather, we were lucky,” Hess recalled.
Last year, Hess had a lot of disease in his alfalfa fields, which prompted him to transition to Roundup Ready alfalfa. He also sprayed insecticide in those fields for the first time, not wanting to take any chances.
He said weed pressure seems slightly higher this year, which could be due to the cool spring slowing crop growth and giving the weeds an advantage. His harvested tonnage is a little less than last year, he said.
But so far, hay production has been going smoothly.
“Everything’s going good,” he said. “I’m happy.”