Take What You Can Get Now for Hay

  From the June 25, 2018 Issue of Agri-News
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 This year’s haying season is causing concern with producers in many parts of the province, as they are noticing forage plants heading out and not growing as tall as they should. Karin Lindquist, forage and beef specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre, examines why producers should consider cutting hay sooner rather than later.

A number of factors may explain why forage crops are not doing well this spring, and it goes back to last year’s weather patterns. Says Lindquist, “Conditions were hot and dry during the summer of 2017. No precipitation for three or more months left some areas very parched. Other areas in the province fared a little better, and still others received more precipitation than they could shake a stick at. Overall, the heat and the lack of moisture severely stressed plants that were trying to survive. By the time some rain fell on these dry areas in the fall, it was already too late. Plants had already gone dormant for the year.”

“Those plants that came back this spring likely had lower root food reserves than normal, and it was enough to get growth started,” explains Lindquist. “However, the dry conditions experienced this spring stressed the plants early in the season and impacted growth rates and yield potential.”

Lindquist says that moisture tends to be the main focus when forage crops are not doing well. “However, other factors need to be considered. Insufficient residue cover, low cutting height, poor soil fertility, individual plant species sensitivity to hot and dry or cool and wet conditions, and presence of insects and diseases can combine together to create a situation where plants are primarily physiologically focused on mere survival. Plants respond to such stresses by being significantly shorter in height, as well as producing flowers or seed-heads earlier than normal. Once a seed-head has fully emerged and gone to seed, the plant has done its job for the year and will go dormant much earlier in the season than normal.”

When faced with a hay crop that is not coming in as tall or thick as hoped, not much can be done to change yield potential. Says Lindquist, “The only thing to do is to take what you can get and cut the crop now while the plants are still green, flowering, and have decent feed value. Leaving the crop alone, or letting it grow for two or three more weeks, will not increase yield. Instead, it will create a reduction in forage quality. Also, we are quickly swinging into another potentially hot and dry summer, so late cut plants may not even grow enough for a producer to get a second cut.”

“There are three phases of growth for most forage plants,” explains Lindquist. “In the first stage - phase 1 - plants are just starting to emerge in the early spring. In the mid or “teenage” stage - phase 2 - plants are vegetative but almost ready to put up a seed-head. In phase 3, the seed-head has emerged, and all the plants’ energy and resources have shifted from leaf production and growth into flowering and seed production. Plants that have entered into the third phase - where they are still actively green and have not entered dormancy - are at a good stage where cutting now will send those plants back to phase 1. If the rain finally comes, then that field will be ready start growing to produce a better second-cut.”

“While the yields will not be there,” concludes Lindquist, “Putting flowering plants back to their growing stages by getting out there with the cutter as soon as possible may be a saving grace in the end. There is no guarantee as to when the rain will come, but having the field ready for the next rain event will have you ready to take advantage of the next cut this year.”

For more information, contact the Alberta Ag-Info Centre at 310-FARM (3276).

Alberta Ag-Info Centre
310-FARM (3276)

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For more information about the content of this document, contact Karin Lindquist.
This document is maintained by Christine Chomiak.
This information published to the web on June 18, 2018.