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Drought Impacts Hay Shortage, Producers Looking for Options at Greenly Field Day on August 7th

By Echo MengesArea farmers and cattleman are bracing for a drastic hay shortage, several of whom are already feeling the effects of, which is being attributed to an exceptionally long winter compacted by an exceptionally dry summer.

“Going back clear to last year, we had a pretty short hay crop in 2017. The winter of 2017-18 was pretty long and pretty brutal. On top of that, we had the coldest April in the history of record keeping for Missouri – when you talk about statewide average temperatures. Couple that with the fact that we had the second warmest May in the history of record keeping in the State of Missouri. Two months back-to-back – that’s almost unheard of,” said University of Missouri Livestock Specialist Zac Erwin. “We didn’t have good hay supplies going into the winter of 2017-18 and then it was a long brutal one at that. We used up all of the hay stocks we had. We’re not only short – we basically depleted them trying to get through the winter of 2017-18. Pasture supplies are starting to become depleted. If we have to start feeding hay right now, we don’t have enough. Those are just the facts of the matter.”

Erwin has been getting bombarded by Northeast Missouri farmers and cattle producers looking for answers to the hay shortage. He’s taking a dozen or more calls a day and expects those numbers to grow.

“A lot of what we’re dealing with right now is just guys looking for options. What do they do?” said Erwin. “It’s a mix of everything.”

The current conditions have sent University of Missouri Extensions on a mission to explore the options and educate farmers and cattlemen statewide.

A hot topic of conversation is augmenting the hay supply with corn silage.

“One thing we’re pretty blessed with in Northeast Missouri is field crops. There’s a lot of corn that’s out there that can be chopped for silage. It comes with a lot of management things we have to consider (because) a lot of guys aren’t set up to feed silage like they were years ago,” said Erwin. “We’ve got a lot of those challenges, but we do have a feed resource.”

Erwin has worked hard to educate livestock producers on the importance of testing for nitrogen before feeding it to their cattle.

“When you grow corn, you put a lot of nitrogen on in hoping to grow a good corn crop. When that doesn’t happen, a lot of that nitrogen gets stuck in the plant walls,” said Erwin. “That becomes a management consideration for a livestock producer because when you run a ruminant animal, which is what a cow is, nitrates become nitrites and they bind the blood hemoglobin together. Basically, if you feed an animal too much feed that’s high in nitrate – significant amounts of death loss. The blood loses the ability to carry oxygen at that point and they suffocate.”

Erwin stressed there are other options besides feeding corn silage, and those options will be discussed at the coming University of Missouri Greenley Research Center Field Day, which is less than two weeks away on August 7. The event will be held at the Greenley Research Farm just outside of Novelty, MO.

The Greenley Research Farm hosts the annual Field Day gathering for farmers and livestock producers statewide. The event is free, open to the public and serves as a launch pad, listening post and educational opportunity for University of Missouri specialists, experts and scientists to pass the most up-to-date agricultural data and science on to producers.

Two talks have been added to this year’s event in response to the drought and hay shortage.

“One of the speakers is going to talk about managing low feed resources through the winter time, basically kind of a winter feed management. I’m going to do a talk titled ‘What’s my hay worth?’ We’re going talk about what hay and silage is worth as well as some of the alternatives,” said Erwin.

One of the biggest effects the hay shortage is having is an uptick in culling, which is the selling off cattle to decrease the herd size enough to match the ability to feed them, according to Erwin.

“We’ve had an extreme amount of culling going on,” said Erwin. “The market is withstanding the numbers of culling right now, but really what you’re seeing is the bred female market, these cows that are still good productive cows that have some age to them – guys are having to let go of these cows because they can’t afford to feed them anymore. We’re seeing a lot of those young cows going to pound markets at a fairly significantly low figure. The buyer market for those young cows somebody is going to take back home and raise some more calves with them – the demand is just not there. When the demand is not there, the prices will drop. That’s what we’re seeing. When we get past this drought, and we will because we always do, more buyers will come back to the market for bred females, young females that can have calves for many years. Maybe it’s a year from now, maybe it’s not quite a year from now. I don’t know, but I think the opportunistic person in me says there’s a future in this cattle market and it could get really good at some point – if you can figure out a way to get through the bad right now.”

Northeast Missouri MU Extensions are in the process of pulling drought mitigation resources together and will be sharing those resources through upcoming meetings and events. The first of those will be the Greenley Research Center Field Day. As more meetings are added, we will publish them in the newspaper and/or online.

This story was printed in The Edina Sentinel on July 25, 2018.

Click HERE to learn more about attending the University of Missouri Lee Greenley Jr. Memorial Research Farm Annual Field Day on Tuesday morning, August 7, 2018.