Weather has been kind to Mississippi’s hay and forage producers, but the economy has not. An unusually cool spring, buffered by adequate rainfall, has increased growth in cool-season forages. Spring is the optimum period for nutrient and sugar content to develop in forages grown for hay, and Mother Nature’s timing was good.

“This set of circumstances has given producers an opportunity to cut some hay at its highest point of quality,” said David Lang, associate professor of agronomy at Mississippi State University.

Cooperative temperatures and rainfall have allowed producers in the state to obtain extra annual ryegrass for hay. Producers in south Mississippi were fortunate to experience good growth in bermudagrass, which added to their hay supplies.

“Projections are that Mississippi will be in good shape for hay,” said Rocky Lemus, forage specialist with the MSU Extension Service. “Our producers won’t have to depend on obtaining hay from out-of-state sources and may have opportunities to sell if other area experience drought.”

Some producers, however, may see a decrease in their hay production because of increases in the cost of fertilizer and other inputs, such as fuel. They must rely upon sound management strategies for hay and forage crops to offset these increases.

Most important in managing fertilizer costs is the pH of the soil. If the pH is not correct, the effectiveness of the fertilizer is reduced, Lemus said.

“If producers have to choose between the costs of adding fertilizer and adjusting the pH, they would fare better to spend the money on adjusting pH,” he said. “They could lose from 50 percent to 60 percent of the added nutrient value that plants would have obtained from fertilizer application.”

The high cost of fertilizer and fuel may contribute to an increase in the price of hay, Lemus said. “Producers are paying a higher price to run their machinery and transport the hay to market, and these increases may be reflected in the cost of hay,” he said.

Producers should practice proper storage of hay to preserve their investment in the crop, Lemus said. Improper storage can cause dry matter losses ranging from 35 percent to 50 percent, depending on the type and size of the bale.

“If storage is limited and hay bales will be stored outside, producers should consider elevating the bales on pallets and using tarps to reduce spoilage from rain,” he said.

The bonus of cutting additional hay and effectively managing forages could save producers some money they would normally spend on feed.

“If producers can be judicious with fertilizer use, produce more quality hay and raise quality forages, then they lessen the need to buy additional feed, which is rising in cost due to high demand for corn and high fuel costs,” said Jane Parish, Extension beef cattle specialist.

She said the forage situation in Mississippi has dramatically improved over the past two years. Producers have paid attention to what they need to do to obtain adequate grazing for livestock.

“Adhering to sound management practices, such as utilizing optimum stocking rates in the pasture, helps the forage situation for producers,” she said. “These are tough economic times, and anything producers can do to offset their costs will increase their chance of survival.”