Rain, warm temperatures boost first hay crop

BURLEY — Alfalfa growers are taking advantage of a wet springtime and warm summer heat that helped bring in an excellent first crop of hay. Early spring rains took hold in Mini-Cassia as creating perfect conditions for farmers during the planting and early growing seasons.

Farmers in the Mini-Cassia area have been hard at work cutting and chopping alfalfa with good results for the season’s first cut.

“It’s been a great year,” said Joel Packham, educator at the University of Idaho’s Extension Office in Cassia County.

Packham said the Mini-Cassia area in particular should have an above average year for crops. Since April 25, more than two inches of rain have fallen.

Combined with the lack of frost, farmers have a lot to be excited about this season, Packham said.

“The rain has been really unusual for this time of year,” he said. “We’re really optimistic. At this point, it looks to be a good year.”

Farmers began cutting the first hay crops last week and, according to Burley farmer Merlin Yost, the weather has contributed to a good early season.

Yost said he chopped his hay earlier than he would have liked, but even with the early cut, he said the second crop should be a good one. Yost typically chops his first two crops of hay before baling later crops.

Hay is harvested in two ways, either by chopping the crop to use as haylage or swathing the hay and baling it for storage and later use. Haylage is often fed quickly after it is chopped to ensure fresh green hay for cattle.

Wet and rainy conditions while the hay is growing are important to a good crop, but once the cutting and chopping begins, warm weather is needed to prevent spoilage. Cut hay lying in a field can spoil quickly if rain clouds roll in and tonnage can be lost when hay is raked to help with the drying process.

Daniel Prefontaine, of Burley, operates a hay chopping business in Mini-Cassia. Prefontaine chops hay and then delivers the fresh alfalfa to dairies for immediate use as feed.

“This first crop is excellent,” he said. “The early rain got everything good and soaked.”

Prefontaine agreed with Packham that the first crop of hay has been well above average.

Packham also said other crops were benefiting from the wet spring. Cereal crops like wheat and barley are growing well with little to no damage from yearly pests and disease, he said.

“I think we can look forward to a good year,” he said. “You almost don’t want to get too excited about it in case things take a downturn, but for now it’s looking really good.”