Sunday, June 02, 2002

Farmers off to soggy start

Cutting hay hindered by frequent rain

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OKEANA — Farmers are stuck in a muddy predicament. It has rained so often that they've been unable to plant crops and cut hay.

        “It's a nightmare,” said Diane Gifford, whose husband, Jim, farms in Okeana in Butler County. “We haven't even taken any of our hay off yet.”

        The problem: rainy days and cutting hay don't mix. And that leads to hay with lower nutritional — and monetary — value.

        “To cure hay properly, you need a lot of sunshine and low humidity — exactly the opposite of what we've had,” said Steve Bartels, a Butler County agricultural extension agent for the Ohio State University.

        If farmers have cut their hay recently, they'll have to let it cure in the rain. But it takes hay three to four days to dry sufficiently — to get to the moisture level needed to be placed into square bales, he said.

        If rain hits it, moisture will reduce the protein and energy levels.

        “Everybody is hurting,” said Dave McElroy of the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District. “It's pretty widespread throughout the county. Planting has been delayed. North of Interstate 71, those fields will dry out sooner. But we don't know what the weather will do in the next few weeks.”

        Local farmers typically sell hay by advertising and seeing what they can get, Mr. Bartels said. Good quality alfalfa hay brings $120 to $160 a ton; the more common grass hay costs $60 to $80 a ton.

        Tim Hesselbrock, who farms near Okeana, said he has not cut hay on 150 acres, preferring to wait until the rain stops.

        “The sad thing is, the weather man said earlier this week we'd have no rain for a few days,” Mr. Hesselbrock said last week. “Then, it rained.”

        Mrs. Gifford said her family is “way behind on our planting. Yesterday they spent three hours just getting the mud wiped off their equipment. It seems that every time they go out to the fields, thunder and lightning start again.”

        Mr. Bartels said the weather reminds him of Ire land, where farmers must store hay in airtight bags.

        His hope is that it will stop raining for a week.

        “But we've been saying that since April 15,” Mr. Bartels said.


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