EUGENE, Ore. — These up-and-down conditions and historically dry weather have complicated things for all sorts of farmers, particularly hay farmers who work with an extremely sensitive crop.
Last spring, farmers were begging for a break from the rain. This year a dry spell threw them for a loop. And what was on course to be a season to compensate for last year’s hay shortage is turning out to be quite a gamble.
“So we got good green hay last year. So hopefully this year the weather will cooperate and we’ll have another great year,” said Ryan Salisbury, Salisbury Farms hay farmer.
Ryan Salisbury was one of the lucky ones last season, harvesting a record number of bales off his fields in Cottage Grove, but most farmers struggled with the long wet spring and record rainfall leading to a shortage.
“The last two years we’ve had real wet springs, and they’ve lasted into June, and it kind of pushes the hay season to the middle of end of summer,” Salisbury said.
This year, instead of record rain farmers saw record dry weather. We’re currently 15 and a half inches below our average rainfall, meaning the grass is drying out sooner before it’s at its full potential. Most farmers wouldn’t start cutting for about another month, but our may dry spell complicated those calculations.
“Unseasonably warm weather came early this year and started to dry everything out, and a lot of people including myself started to get a little anxious and were getting ready to cut, and now here we are waiting,” Salisbury said.
Some farmers didn’t wait though. They saw sprouting seed heads and decided to cut early. It may be thinner than usual, but Mike Lengele of Deiss Feed & Seed says it’s some of the only hay available at stores like his to fill the void left by last year’s shortage.
“We ran out early, and we were out of local hay for about three to four weeks before they got a chance to cut again,” Lengele said.
Lengele says those 95-pound bales are going for $14 a piece instead of the usual $11, so it’s good money for those who cut, but those who waited like Salisbury are hoping it pays off in growth and value.
“I would prefer to have four or six more weeks of growth, so that I can increase the yield, and you can see it’s quite short now and it’s typically much taller,” Salisbury said.
With showers now sprinkling in amongst the dry days, odds are better for the rest of the season. But Salisbury says you can never quite tell as every field and farmer are different, maybe even as variable as the weather in Oregon.
Salisbury says since a lot of the hay dried out already, too much rain means the grass could bend over and kink. So he’s hoping for a perfect mixture of wet and dry to make the best use of this year’s crop.