Most southern growers don’t apply hay preservation chemicals to their forage crops; it’s generally not cost effective, Darren Redfearn, Oklahoma State University professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and forage specialist for Oklahoma Cooperative Extension, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. However, there are times when the antimicrobials can help save a crop.
Redfearn said because most forages grown for hay in the southern part of the U.S. are grasses, applications are not worth the expense as much as they would be if the stand were a higher value forage like alfalfa. The applications also tend to be more common in the North, where conditions are wetter and cooler. However, it can get like that in the South, too – especially this past spring. “One of the advantages to using the hay preservatives is also basically to allow you to dodge some of the weather or poor drying conditions that we may have, especially during the late spring and early summer,” said Redfearn. If harvest and baling conditions produce a high moisture crop, then hay preservatives would be a consideration.
In addition to the temperature – the cooler it is, the slower the hay is to dry, and the higher the risk of deterioration – Redfearn said a couple of other factors that can influence hay drying are wind speed and humidity; if the first is high and the second low, hay will dry faster. “If you’re in a situation where you have a higher value hay crop that has a high quality and it’s not drying down as quickly as you would need, and then there’s a potential for some other weather conditions – basically, an increased chance of precipitation to come in and send you back to Ground Zero – then considering using some of the hay preservatives that would allow you to go in and bale that hay where it’s not quite dry is going to be an advantage,” he said.
Preservatives are applied at baling; the operator attaches a sprayer or applicator to the hay baler, and applies the hay preservative during the baling process. Redfearn said there isn’t much difference between the costs of competing products; the most common of them is proprionic acid.
While there is some interest in using hay preservatives, Redfearn said he cautions growers the chemicals are not a substitute for good management practices, and are more of a tool to alleviate problems in difficult weather situations. He said, “The old adage, ‘Make hay while the sun is shining,’ is one that we kind of laugh at sometimes but there’s a lot of truth to that, in that when we’ve got proper drying conditions that’s going to promote a faster curing of the hay and basically result in not having to require us to apply the preservatives, which are going to increase some of the cost of the hay production. As a general rule, most of the commercial producers that are producing hay for sale will occasionally use these, but normally it’s not what I would call a regular management practice.”
This, though, might have been a year when preservatives could have been put to use. Up until the end of May, hay making conditions were poor in the Ozarks. The weather then abruptly turned hot and dry, and Redfearn said as of mid-June he had seen quite a bit of hay produced. “Part of the problem with that,” he said, “is a lot of that hay should have been harvested probably 2-3 weeks ago, so the quality of that is going to be somewhat lower due to the increased maturity of the forage.”
But whether producers could have benefitted by applying preservatives is open to question; as Redfearn said, “Just with the amount of moisture that we’ve had most of the problems have been with harvesting the hay to begin with, as opposed to cutting the hay and then having to dodge some of the thunderstorms.”


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