Phil Sims, Extension staff chair in Arkansas’ Pope County, had just three words Tuesday (June19) for the county’s hay situation: “Critical. Code blue.”
Karen Haralson, a cattle producer in Atkins, backed Sims up, calling the pasture-robbing drought conditions “devastating.”
“The bottom ground in the horseshoe of Point Remove, even it’s brown,” Haralson said. “Everything up top is just crisp. The little bit of nubble that’s left, when you walk on it, it crinkles.”
The June 18 crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service said that last “week’s rainfall was enough to prevent a decline in pasture and range conditions but not enough to significantly improve conditions.” Only 1 percent of pastures were rated excellent; 11 percent were good, 32 percent fair, 35 percent poor and 21 percent very poor.
According to preliminary data from the National Weather Service for Russellville, the Pope County seat, May’s rainfall was 4.67 inches short of normal. April was 1.91 inches down, February was 1.53 inches short and January was 0.43 inches below normal. Only March saw a surplus, of 3.85 inches.
This year’s warm spring enabled many Arkansas hay growers to get an early cutting, but with the lack of rain, that came up short for some.
“My first cutting in the bottom area was about 80 percent and when I cut the meadows outside of the bottoms, I had about 47 percent,” Haralson said.
She has turned the cattle out into her hay meadows and while she’s “not digging into my supply yet, my hay supply is so small, that if I don’t get some rain by the first of July, I’ll have to start selling cows.”
In Independence County, Don Hubbell, director of the Livestock and Forestry Station, said “I know that finding hay locally to buy or cut is a real challenge right now.”
“I don’t know of anyone ‘importing’ hay from out of state. A lot of barns got cleaned out last winter due to the high hay prices, and producers are trying to fill those barns back up.”
With dry weather a fixture in the forecast, “anyone that can irrigate is, and has been for quite some time,” Hubbell said. “Most of the hay producers that I know along the river are set up to irrigate.”
Hubbell, and Hempstead County Extension agent Steven Sheets said water levels in area stock ponds were getting low, but not yet dried.
“If this weather pattern keeps up, the ponds won’t be too far behind about drying up,” Hubbell said.
Sheets said growers in his county were grateful for the big rain last week and the pop-up showers since then. “It’s been pretty challenging. Over the last few days we’ve had some little storms that come through. They don’t drop any real rainfall, but do rain for 10-15 minutes, and it cools you down and makes you feel better.
“It’s going to take some more of that before any of the grasses really kick off and start growing.”
To learn more about forage and hay production, contact your county Extension office, or visit www.uaex.edu.