Hay Harvest

Fort Atkinson, Iowa, dairy producer Carl Schmitt started mowing second cutting alfalfa on July 5. 

With supplies tight, producers should make as much hay as possible, wherever possible, said Denise Schwab, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Vinton.

“A few options I’ve heard producers talk about are to work with others who have prevented planting acres, consider buying out CRP acres for hay, baling all the waterways you can access, and even ditch hay if it is available in your area,” Schwab said. “There are challenges with these lower-quality feeds, but the beauty of the ruminant is that we can supplement almost any roughage, but they need to have roughage in the diet.”

Corn silage is always an option for beef producers.

“However, if you are considering chopping corn silage, I encourage you to visit with your custom chopper ASAP,” Schwab said. “With a limited number of choppers and increased interest in chopping silage, we need to work with them to get everything harvested in a timely manner.”

Hay prices are above average for this time of season, said Brian Lang, Iowa State Extension field agronomist in Decorah.

“As the weather better cooperates for timely harvest of second and third crops, prices should ease a bit,” Lang said. “At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to run some numbers on your feed inventory.”

This could give an early warning of inadequate feed supplies and the option to purchase standing crops yet this season.

“Hay will continue to be short and pricey, plus we may see issues with corn silage yields and quality,” said Fred Hall, Iowa State Extension dairy specialist in Orange City. “It’s all about milk per acre. Locking in alfalfa and securing corn now should be good risk management for milk producers.”

Patrick Wall, Iowa State Extension beef specialist in Knoxville, noted that two years of drought combined with the tough winter took a bite out of stocks. Record flooding compounded the problem. He said prices at auction were at unprecedented levels across the Midwest in the early summer months because the supply for new 2019 crop hay simply wasn't there.

Now, several pockets across southern Iowa could use some rain, said Erika Lundy, Iowa State Extension beef specialist in Greenfield. While the alfalfa stands will tolerate drier conditions, regrowth of grass is more dependent on moisture. 

There are some cases where insects (leafhoppers, in particular) are starting to find the alfalfa, which is forcing producers to cut hay before they would like.

“Now is a really good time to scout fields for presence of bugs and weeds and come up with a game plan for controlling those nuisances if they are a problem,” Lundy said. “It’s always a good time to remind producers of their fertility program — with each cutting of hay, we are removing a lot of nutrients than need to be replaced.”

Many producers are cautious to let go of their current hay supply because they are trying to replenish their own inventory. 

“There was very little hay carried over, so we need a big crop this year to catch up,” said Joe Sellers, a retired Iowa State Extension beef specialist and Lucas County cow-calf producer.

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