Price, supply and potential pitfalls

The lack of rain coupled with an increasing cost in fertilizer and fuel continues to put the price of hay on an upward trajectory. Economic pressures are tough enough for farmers these days. Unfortunately, the forecast for hay prices isn’t too encouraging. 

Hay Prices

Most farmers in the Ozarks have only been able to get one cutting in their hay fields so far this season. Which means supply is tight and there won’t be much hay for sale. Many of the producers who have hay are holding on to it for their own needs. 

For producers looking to buy hay, the prices are a pretty penny higher than last year. “If someone can find some for sale, 4-feet-by-5-feet round bales will be north of $50 per bale and probably closer to $75,” Brad Runsick, Baxter County, Ark., extension agent, said. 

Hay Supply

Runsick recently conducted an online survey to gather information about the current hay supply. He received more than 300 responses to his survey. Many producers responded they do not have enough hay to carry their herds through the winter. “Most of those folks have less than two-thirds of their total winter hay need,” Runsick shared. “Half of those are producers already feeding hay now, and most of the rest expect to be by the end of September.”

 Potential Pitfalls

Forage and livestock specialists want to remind producers of the dangers to animals that stem from drought conditions. During long stretches without rain many warm season annuals stop growing, however the grasses continue to take up nitrogen through the soil. This can lead to toxic levels of nitrates and prussic acid in the forage. Both of which can be extremely harmful, even deadly to livestock. 

Some of the grasses most commonly associated with toxic levels of nitrate and prussic acid buildup include sorghum-Sudan hybrids, forage sorghum, Sudan grass, Johnson grass and corn. Nitrates accumulate in the lower portion of the stem in warm season grasses. Extension agronomists state that small grains, millet, soybean, oats, alfalfa, Bermudagrass and tall fescue can all develop elevated levels of nitrate in their tissue. Many extension offices offer a nitrate presence test for producers to check the nitrate levels in their forages.  

Dry Baling in Drought Conditions

Extension specialists remind producers that nitrate concentration levels are preserved in dry baled forage. The nitrate does not leave if the forage is dry baled. Therefore, experts recommend taking precautions when baling hay during drought conditions. “If forage must be baled, leave 10 to 12 inches of stubble to avoid baling the most toxic part of the plant,” Jill Scheidt, agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, advised. 

Producers should use caution when entering silo pits because forages with high levels of nitrate can emit toxic gases. Experts recommend not using the baled forage to feed livestock or for bedding if the nitrate levels of the baled forage are higher than 1.5 percent concentration.

However, Scheidt adds ensiled forages can reduce nitrate levels by 20 to 50 percent. In addition, forages with prussic acid will breakdown to manageable levels when harvested. “Dry baling or ensiling forages is an effective way to reduce prussic acid,” Scheidt explained. “If dry baling, sample forage before feeding until prussic acid is no longer detected.”


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