The wet spring weather we all have experienced has created delays for farmers across all farm types and sizes in our community. The weather influences the ability to get equipment on the field to spread crop nutrients on the soil, as well as harvest any cover crops prior to planting crops. When there is a delay in spring field work, which generally starts in a normal spring around early April, the farm loses the chance to get back on track. The chance to get caught up on completing necessary work results in delayed planting, which directly relates to a reduction in yield at harvest time and reduced revenue for the farm.
At this time, most dairy farms are working hard to finish spreading manure that was stored over the winter. Both dairy and cash crop farms are preparing the ground to plant and working to control weeds in the fields for annual grain crops such as corn, soybeans and small grains. These crops need to be planted early enough to benefit from the length of our growing season.
At the same time this year, the wet weather has spurred the hay crop on! Farms growing both grain and hay find their attention being divided between planting grain crops and the need to focus on harvesting and transporting the hay in a timely process to maximize the nutrient value of the hay crop for livestock.
The hay crop can be harvested in two ways. The first is a green chop, which is then generally taken in for storage and stabilized through a fermentation process; the end product is called haylage. The second is by allowing the crop, after it is cut, to dry in the field and then bale it for storage. The latter requires several days of warm sunny days with low humidity to dry the crop to the correct moisture for baling. Should the hay be baled too wet, a process called spontaneous combustion can occur and can result in a fire.
Kevin Ganoe is a cooperative extension specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in the capital district of New York state. He has conducted research to help farmers determine when to harvest hay crops for maximum return of nutrients contained in the hay crop. The result of his research indicates that each farm is different. This should be no surprise to many. Some of the factors include weather; the old adage of "make hay when the sun shines" certainly still applies. Other factors include the harvest process used by the farm, what types of equipment and storage are available to preserve the crop and the many competing tasks that reduce the chances of getting the hay crop harvested on the ideal day for maximum quality.
This spring’s weather has created a challenge for farmers. They are working to balance harvesting an important crop of hay while still working to plant their grain crops. The harvest of hay, preparing the ground and planting grain crops all use different equipment. These important spring field work activities taking place at the same time can create a significant amount of farm equipment on our local roads.
Have you seen the “slow moving vehicle symbol” on farm equipment? When you see the triangular orange symbol on the back of a truck, trailer or farm implement, it is there to help you recognize that this implement was designed to operate slowly. The operator of this machinery is trusting that you understand what this symbol means and will be patient or, if passing, will do so safely. This will allow everyone to get where we are going and accomplish our goals. Your family and the farmer’s family moving equipment from field to field are all expecting each other home at the end of the day safe and sound.
Keith Severson is a field crop resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County. For more information, visit cce.cornell.edu or call (315) 255-1183.