When it comes to hay production, excessive rainfall can be a double-edged sword. Rain makes the grasses grow, but it can also delay cutting.
As with any crop, the timing of precipitation is key, according to Wharton County Extension Agent Corrie Bowen.
The same number of hay acres were grown this year in the county when compared to last year with predicted higher yields without a mid-summer drought like in 2018, Bowen said.
Wharton County produces hay on approximately 25,000 acres of predominately bermudagrass hay, but that number includes native grass hay, oldworld bluestem, some sorghum sudan and a little alfalfa, Bowen said. Most of it is fed locally, but county growers export hay throughout the Houston area, and possibly trucked a three to a four-hour drive away.
Hay cutting began in April and went into May, but heavy rainfall in late May and early June slowed down the harvest, he said.
The 2019 USDA Weekly Texas Hay Report released June 28 sums up the spring hay season, Bowen said. According to the report, rain continues to plague hay harvest across the state. Farmers are trying to harvest between thunderstorms.
According to the Texas crop and weather report, late harvest and excessive moisture in the fields in the North, Central and East regions have caused some weed issues due to the inability to get into the fields to spray.”
The weather changed for the better on July 4 and throughout the following week, Bowen said.
“With the current high pressure system and the heat that comes with it, our hay producers have a lot of hay on the ground. The current hay cutting is the second cutting for a lot of growers, and it may be the first cutting of the year for some. With all of the rainfall, grass growth has been tremendous this year, in both hay fields and pastures.”
It is likely weed control was delayed in early spring, he added.
Delayed cutting can diminish the quality of the grasses, too.
“Of all the factors that influence quality, stage of maturity or age of the plant at harvest is the most important. About 70 percent of the quality of hay is determined by stage of maturity at harvest,” Bowen said.
A wet winter coupled with the amount of hay that was fed saw the 2019 hay season begin with a need to replenish local supply. The rain helped in that respect, Bowen said.
“It was short, and the rains and current weather have been much needed and beneficial for hay production.”
Vanessa Corriher-Olson, AgriLife Extension forage specialist, based in Overton, said more than anything, hay producers need sunshine and the ability to access fields.
“The biggest challenge for producers now is getting into their fields to fertilize or treat weeds, to cut and bale or all of the above. They need dry conditions to do that. It takes three days to cut, windrow and bale hay, and high humidity makes that more difficult. That will continue to be a challenge if we receive intermittent rains into July.”