Early hay cutting some consolation following 2011 drought
COAL HILL, Ark. – “Crazy” is the word champion hay producer Jamey Styles used to describe the 2012 growing season as he prepared to hit the field with his baler.
“We’re three to four weeks ahead,” he said Wednesday, adding with a laugh that “some people could’ve had tomatoes by now if they’d only known it wasn’t going to freeze.”
Styles, of Johnson County, won the 2011 American Forage and Grassland Bermuda Hay Contest – essentially the national Bermuda hay championships -- despite record drought and high temperatures that in some places hit 120 degrees. On Wednesday, he was hoping to pull a sample that would enable him to repeat last year’s title.
“If we hadn’t gotten some rain in August, last year would’ve been the worst I’d seen,” he said. Even with irrigation on some fields, it was so hot, “it was like I was cooking the grass. I don’t ever want to see that again.”
LESSON NOT LOST
2011 was a year that still haunts Rex Herring, who works in a county that was among the hardest hit by drought. He’s grateful for the early start this year.
“We’re 30 days ahead of the norm,” he said on the last day of April. Herring is the Sevier County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. By then, Herring had already helped put up dozens of bales of hay on his father’s Polk County farm. “I’m going to have 200-300 rolls in this first cutting.”
The early cutting is a blessing in an area where last year’s drought turned pastures to tinder and forced many producers on scorched farms in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas to sell cattle they could no longer feed. The lesson was not lost.
“We can’t forget the hard times and how much we spent last year to stay in business,” Herring said. “Many spent last year’s calf crop and part of this year’s money to stay in business.”
“I’ve got a couple of producers who are putting up hay or forages in a timely manner,” Herring said. “Everyone sees the value of doing this.”
EARLY BOUNTY DOWN SOUTH
The early rain and perfect conditions have provided a bounty of cool season ryegrass and clover in southern Arkansas as well.
“Producers in Little River County have put up more hay at this point than they did all of last year,” said Joe Paul Stuart, Little River County extension staff chairman for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.