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Well-timed rains grow good hay
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Hay producers across most of Mississippi could not have timed the rains any better if they controlled the weather themselves.
Summer thunderstorms are bringing enough moisture to most parts of the state to grow good summer grasses. The rain is stopping to let farmers cut, dry and bale the hay before starting again.
"The rain comes at just the right time and quits at just the right time," said Malcolm Broome, forage specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
He said there is no comparison between this year's hay harvest and last year's in the drought.
"Last year we had one good cutting and part of another, depending on where you were. It's three to four times better now than it was then," Broome said. "Unless the weather goes totally dry, hay supplies should be adequate for producers. About three more weeks of thundershower weather across the state is all we need to ensure we have enough hay for the winter."
Most producers had at least two cuttings of hay by late July, and Broome said those fields with excellent management had three.
"Good managers start with a fertilizer application as soon as the grass breaks dormancy in the spring, and harvest their hay monthly," Broome said. "When you do that, you get a cutting in May, June, July, August and September for most of the state."
Fall armyworms sometimes are a problem by this point in the season, but especially in August and early September. Broome said he has heard no reports yet of problems with these pests, but there have been a few instances of leaf flight on Bahia grass in southeast Mississippi.
Chuck Grantham, Jones County Extension agent, said the hay crop in the area looks to be in real good shape.
"We've probably harvested in the neighborhood of 60 percent of what we expect to cut for the summer," Grantham said. "The biggest challenge is being able to get the hay cut and harvested between thundershowers. It's a totally different scenario from last year when we had no rain and no grass to cut for hay."
With no significant problems yet from fall armyworms or disease, and with plenty of rain, county farmers already expect to have enough hay for winter.
"The cattlemen are happy and the cows are fat," Grantham said.
Although two cuttings are complete and another two are expected, Grantham said he is concerned about the hay's quality.
"Due to the high price of nitrogen fertilizer, I'm not sure that our producers have invested the money into putting out enough nitrogen for the hay," he said.
However, Broome said that samples he's seen from across the state show the forage analysis to be good to excellent, with 10 to 12 percent protein and good digestibility.