HELENA, Mont. – As June in western Montana continued to be hotter and drier than normal, Joe Dooling was plenty happy to be in his air-conditioned equipment and working his way through his first cutting of alfalfa.
During a phone update on June 18, Joe was busy stacking bales off of a field and he said the first cutting had been going well so far.
“It’s been a good yield. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. We did start to get a few bugs (alfalfa weevils), but overall I am happy with it,” he said of the crop.
Joe puts up most of his alfalfa into large square bales, as they are much easier and safer to haul. It is optimum to bale large squares when the hay moisture is at 12 percent. Because the moisture level needs to be that low, Joe does most of his baling during the day, and although the record-breaking heat is not much fun, his alfalfa crop has been doing well under the conditions.
“All this heat that everybody hates, makes alfalfa grow. I am having above average yields,” Joe stated.
He has noticed, however, that he has never had hay dry out as fast as it has this year. He had one particular field that had three tons of hay on it that dried in two days.
“When its 106 degrees out with 30 mile per hour winds blowing, it’s just like a blow dryer on that hay,” he said.
One advantage brought on by the quick drying hay is the fact it can be cut, baled, and off the field in a short amount of time. Joe aims to have all those steps completed in one week’s time. After the fields are cleared of the bales, he plans to start applying some fertilizer. This is the first year he has ever fertilized between cuttings, but with a scary hay shortage facing the western U.S., Joe wants to make sure he has as much hay as possible to offer his fellow agriculturalists.
With this year’s drought continuing to pressure producers across the region, Joe can’t help but give his eternal thanks to the irrigation system that sustains his operation. Those that designed the irrigation system back in the mid-1950s sure had a lot of forethought, he attests.
The pivots on Joe’s hay fields are of course turned off, but they are still chugging away on his malt barley crop. It, too, is doing really well this year and Joe predicts barley harvest could be a little early this year, as well.
“We are already in the flag leaf stage, so I imagine by the middle of August we will be harvesting barley,” he added.
For the remainder of June, Joe will be wrapping up first cutting with the most finicky task being stacking the square bales. He laughed as he pointed out the fact that farming on the urban interface means there are always plenty of people watching.
“I better make sure this stack looks perfect since it is right by the road,” Joe chuckled.
It won’t be very long after first cutting is done before it will be time to do it all over again for second cutting. There is plenty to do on Cedar Creek Land and Livestock, with the primary task at hand being to make hay while that beautiful Montana sun shines.