As 130 producers and program sponsors from Arkansas, southwest Missouri, northeast Oklahoma and Texas convened for the 13th annual Quality Forage Bermuda Hay program, a common topic was the impact of fertilizer prices and weather.
Hay producers continue to wrestle with higher input costs and reflect on uncertain rainfall patterns, which impacted forage production in 2010, the third consecutive year. The lingering drought resulted in most producers being sold out by December as customers were also impacted by unusually short forage supplies.
However, lessons from the previous 2 years apparently helped producers master strategies that captured quality. Jim Singleton, Quality Forage Program Chairman noted, “Although we had an all-time high number of entries this year, almost three-fourth (105/144) had TDN (energy) levels of 65 percent, which is exceptional for Bermuda hay by any standard.”
Those top 105 samples, with an average TDN level of 68 percent, reflect 75 percent of the energy value of corn. Based on today’s corn market, one ton of quality Bermuda hay would have an energy value alone of $180 per ton.
In regards to feed quality, Singleton noted, “This top 105 sample group had an average RFQ (Relative Feed Quality) score of 124, where 100 is considered to be excellent hay. Actually, over 90 percent of all entries surpassed an RFQ of 100.”
Reflecting the impact of higher fertilizer prices, the 144 entries from 2010 averaged only 13.4 percent crude protein and 1.8 percent potassium. This represents a continuing downward trend in these two factors over the 13-year history of the Quality Forage program. While there is little expectation for improvement in the near future, this illustrates the need for producers to document and promote hay as a competitive energy source.
While more attention is now being directed to the energy value of Bermuda hay, it was one of our initial program goals, we didn’t realize that it would take unbelievably high fertilizer prices to provide the teachable moment.
Robert Seay is the County Extension Agent, Staff Chair of Benton County, Ark.


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