A Year in Review -- Forages

Dec 30, 2019


Brett Jones, an agronomist for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, shares his statewide take-aways from the 2019 hay season. 
 
  1. Early cutting has its benefits.
Middle Tennessee producers enjoyed an early cutting window this spring. On my farm in Maury County, we started cutting hay in late April – the earliest we’ve ever been able to cut grass hay and cure it without having a wrapper. (The photo with this blog was taken during that time.) Early cutting offers two big benefits. First, that initial cutting is much better quality, and the field is ready for a second cutting by the time many are finishing their first.

What date is best for early cutting? Before the second week of May. May target date for optimum quality is May 1.
 
  1. Many are cutting it too close.
Cutting height of hay is often overlooked but is crucial for several reasons. First, regrowth. If we leave good height and some green leaves, the plant can begin performing photosynthesis and growing again without having to go to its roots, which will weaken the root system. Second, most grasses store their energy and carbohydrates in the bottom few inches, so cutting the plant too short will weaken the root system and kill our stand.

What is the best cutting height for hay? Excluding Bermuda grass, I recommend at least 3 ½ inches, and 4 inches or more is even better! Measurements taken at the shop on concrete will always be lower in the field, so always measure the actual plants that have been cut and adjust accordingly.
 
  1. Nutrient deficiencies must be addressed.
Based on the soil samples I’ve seen for several years, our hay fields are simply starving to death. Cutting hay is much like cutting corn silage. We are pulling much more from our fields than we are replacing, and just like with a bank account, once a deficit bad things begin to happen. Our field’s production drops drastically, desirable grasses soon die out, and we are left with only deep root weeds. Then, we try to remedy the situation by reseeding in the fall. As one might expect, the young seedling won’t survive either.

What’s the best way to estimate your soil’s nutrient needs? Soil testing! Your local Co-op can assist you with planning a soil-testing program and can customize a fertilizer plan to ensure your pastures and hayfields have the nutrients needed to produce high-quality, high-yielding grass.
 
 
 
 

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Once harvest is complete, a farmer’s focus quickly changes to next year’s crop. Soil sampling is a top priority for the fall/winter season, and precision sampling is a great starting point for using technology to maximize returns on investment from inputs, amendments, and field-collected data.