Rain delays hay harvest

Hard to make hay unless sun shines


LACONIA -- The proverb says, “Make hay while the sun shines,” but the problem is the sun hasn’t been shining. Over the last six weeks, there have been only three, three-day periods without rain, making it very hard for farmers to cut and bail their hay.

A 72-hour period without rain is generally needed to allow cut hay to cure properly for bailing. A bail of wet hay tends to get moldy and becomes unsuitable for animal feed.

Jeff Keyser, who manages Ramblin' Vewe Farm in the rolling hills of Gilford, said two dry days will sometimes suffice, but even that has been hard to come by this year.

“We're lucky if we get one day of decent weather,” he said Friday as dark clouds loomed over a 5-acre field that hasn't been cut this year.

Heavy rains also leave muddy fields that are difficult for farm machines.

“The problem is the ground is so wet, it's tough to get on a piece without rutting it up,” Keyser said. “I'm not getting enough dry time between stretches of rain and the fields are soaking wet.”

He normally does his first cut in early June and a second one later in the summer. Keyser has been able to cut hay on some of the fields he manages, and he's waiting to do it on others.

“Tuesday, I went to Barnstead and it's amazing the hay that hasn't been mowed down there,” said Keyser, who manages a farm placed into a trust by businessman Dick Persons.

Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, in Gray, Maine, said that over the last six weeks, there have been only three, 72-hour periods without rain as measured at Lakeport in Laconia.

Concord has seen 24.93 inches of rain so far this year, or 4.09 inches above normal. A monitoring station in Laconia has recorded 27.13 inches of rain year to date, also about 4 inches above average.

Carl Majewski, a food and agriculture specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said wet weather has slowed the hay harvest statewide. It’s not just the higher-than-normal rainfall totals, but the fact that rain has been so frequent that farmers don’t have the sustained dry weather they needed for haying.

The wet conditions are more than just an inconvenience.

“The longer you let that grass grow, the less nutritious it becomes,” he said. “Dairy farmers look for hay with a high nutritional value. It takes a lot of energy to support milk production.

“Anything not mowed yet becomes coarse and fibrous, and won't have the same nutritional value as hay harvested earlier.”

On the positive side, once a farmer manages to cut his hay, the second crop tends to grow quickly in moist conditions.

Majewski said that despite the rain delays in the hay season, there should still be time for farmers to do two harvests this year.

The wet conditions are quite a turnaround from last year when the state was hit by a drought. The dry conditions made it easy to cut the hay, but limited growth of the crop.

A total of 53,000 acres of hay were harvested in New Hampshire last year, with a total value of $20 million, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.