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Hay shortage affecting farmers


Fri, May 31st, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

Local farmers are dealing with a situation - which farmers often do. This time, the situation is a shortage of hay and it’s not only local farmers who are feeling the effects.

There are many critical factors in farming, and hay is one piece of a much larger picture. Known for being resilient farmers must use a little ingenuity to compensate for the shortage of hay that is currently affecting the farming community.

Haz Broy Farms of rural Lanesboro, Minn. is a dairy farm owned by Brian and Judy Hazel, which is one of many farms in the area making adjustments in their usual routines until hay is once again plentiful.

When asked what has caused the hay shortage, Brian Hazel explained that several factors have contributed to the problem. “There were severe stress factors,” states Brian, saying that “there was a shortage to begin with” and then having a dry 2012 made the situation worse.

With January 2013 being so cold “soil temperatures got lower than they normally would and the plants had a difficult time trying to start in the cold,” Brian said. In late Spring 2013 it became evident there had been a lot of “Winter kill,” which would definitely add to the shortage of hay.

“An additional reason that hay is not abundant,” says Brian, “is financial incentive to plant row crops.” He explained that in 2012 not as much hay acres were seeded down because it is more profitable to plant corn.

With so much Winter kill a decision needed to be made as to what to do. At Haz Broy Farms the decision was made to plant no-till corn in the damaged alfalfa stands. The ground is then rolled to increase seed to soil contact.

Brian states that this year they doubled the amount of alfalfa seeding. He says, “there needs to be hay, there needs to be cattle to keep the soil right.”

Adjustments are also made when feeding the dairy cows during a shortage of hay. Steve McCallson, who has worked at Haz Broy Farms for 22 years and has been farming his entire life, explained how they extend the silage by feeding the cows a “higher corn silage diet.”

The cows are fed a Total Mixed Ration (TMR) which consists of protein mix, soybean meal, corn silage, dry hay, bakery products, and liquid molasses. They will now be adding wheat straw, which Brian got in from Canada, as well as corn gluten pellets to the TMR in order to extend the silage they have left. To get an idea of how much feed is used, Brian stated that each cow eats seven pounds of wheat straw per day, so it’s easy to see how fast this adds up with a large herd.

Brian Hazel is quick to point out that “our area does not have it as bad as some other states,” which is certainly the case. When asked how long it may take for the hay supply to bounce back, Brian thinks it may be one and a half to two years, which Steve McCallson agreed, noting it takes two years for alfalfa to produce well.” Subsequently it will take quite awhile for farmers to get their hay stocked once again.

When asked if the current hay shortage will affect milk and other dairy prices, Brian said, “No, it won’t,” explaining that, “milk is priced on the world market so what is happening locally does not affect the local prices.” Brian explained, “the weather in New Zealand affects the prices more than the weather here does,” because New Zealand is the largest exporter of milk. Second to New Zealand in milk exportation is the Europe Union and the United States ranks third. According to Brian, “13 percent of the United States milk has been exported this year and 80 percent of New Zealand’s milk was exported.” Brian said, “local profitability is not affected as milk is priced globally.”

With so much uncertainty one may wonder why farmers love what they do. When asked this question, Brian, who began farming in 1978, answered that he enjoys working with animals, soil, and plants and then added, “It keeps me busy,” which it most certainly does.

Steve McCallson has been farming his entire life and is proud to say he was “born and raised a farmer.” Steve enjoys farming because of the flexibility but mostly it is because of the fact that he is “good at it” and says “you always enjoy what you are good at.”

As for the shortage of hay, Brian, in true farmer style, says that they will “nurse it through this year,” and hopefully the situation improves. This hope is echoed by farmers and livestock owners of all kinds throughout the country as well as the consumers who appreciate the products the farmers supply, and the hard work and stress they endure to provide us with the dairy products we love.

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