hay ground

Charles Brown, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist, says there is potential this year to make good money converting to hay ground.

Hay shortages have not been uncommon the last several years, resulting in higher prices that may tempt some farmers to convert lower quality crop ground into hay or pasture.

Charles Brown, Iowa State University Extension farm management specialist in Oskaloosa, says it may make sense to plant grass or legumes instead of corn and beans.

“A lot of the CRP that was taken out of the program a few years go went to corn or beans since prices were so high,” he says. “That ground may be better suited for hay production.”

Brown says using 2019 numbers, it costs about $400 an acre to plant corn on ground that may yield 150 bushels per acre. At a price of $3.50 per bushel for corn, he says that amounts to a profit of $129 per acre if there are no costs associated with the land.

He says it costs about $297 per acre to seed and prepare hay ground.

“You are going to get more than three years out of that, but if we use three years, that’s about $100 per acre per year,” Brown says. “If you are getting $125 per ton for quality hay, you are going to see a profit of $51 per ton, or $204 per acre.

“The potential is there to make some pretty good money on hay.”

Brown says producers could decide to grow higher-quality hay and sell into the dairy or specialty hay markets.

Making the change requires preparation, says Rebecca Vittetoe, Iowa State Extension forage specialist in Washington, Iowa. Soil should be tested and any imbalances should be corrected.

Weed pressure must also be assessed.

“If the ground is in row crops, it is less likely there are any perennial weeds than there might be if you were converting pasture into hay ground,” Vittetoe says. “If you are seeding alfalfa, you are more limited in what you can spray to kill weeds.”

She says the feed quality of the hay will be better if legumes are a part of the field. Most producers will use a no-till drill to seed hay ground, and Vittetoe recommends a seed depth of 1⁄8 to ¼ inches.

“If you get it too deep, it’s more difficult to establish that stand,” she says.

Early April is a good time to seed grass and legumes, Vittetoe adds.

“If you can’t do it then, it’s probably best to wait until fall,” she says. “Cool-season grasses will not grow very well in the heat of the summer.”

New hay ground can be grazed if necessary, and Vittetoe suggests hay be at least 10 to 12 inches in height before it is baled.

She says if grass seed is being planted on last year’s corn ground, those fields should be grazed or the cornstalks baled.

“Then you don’t have the residue in the way of the new seeding,” Vittetoe says. “You want that stand to be able to find the sun.”

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Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.