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Rain can make Colorado harvest challenging

John Gardner
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

SILT, Colorado – While a rainy spring season makes irrigating easier for hay farmers, it does not make it easy come harvest time.

“Really, the water situation is pretty constant,” said Silt area farmer Jim Bair. The rain just makes his irrigating easier.

However, for harvesting, hay is very sensitive to weather conditions, especially during harvest time. Dry conditions stunt growth and reduce the nutritional value in the hay. Wet conditions may cause the cut hay to spoil in the field before it’s baled. Or, it may also rot or mold after being baled creating potential for toxins to form in the livestock feed, which could cause animals to get sick.

Lots of springtime rain can be good and bad – good for growth, not so good for harvesting.

All the rain this year has made it difficult for farmers to get the hay cut and baled, according to Bair.

“It was kind of tough with all the rain,” he said. “The rain is really good for growing crops but makes it tricky to harvest. It’s hot and dry with no clouds for a couple of days, then, the next day you get an afternoon shower.”

The rain will make it hard for ranchers to find high quality hay after this first cutting, Bair said.

“It depends on what kind of hay you are looking for,” Bair said.

A lot of this first cutting has been rained on, and Bair says that will be fine for cows or grinding hay, which is hay ground into other types of feed.

“But good quality horse hay will be hard to find, as for the first cutting,” he said.

The quality of hay may improve as the season advances.

Bair, who grows grass hay and alfalfa, said that his growing season typically starts around the end of March or in early April. What affects his growing season is not so much the rain, but how warm temperatures are as well.

The first harvest of the season usually occurs in June, traditionally one of the driest months, Bair said.

“But this is one of the wettest Junes I’ve seen,” he said.

The wet June has made this year’s first cutting a real challenge.

He was able to get some of his crop cut, baled and stored between rainstorms. But some got wet as well.

He said that he knows a couple of other farmers who were able to get some hay baled up between rainstorms, but not many.

Leo Jammaron, a hay farmer near Glenwood Springs, said that it’s important to keep a hay bale’s moisture level below 18 percent, to prevent mold so that it will store for winter. A digital meter is used to check the moisture content of the bale before it’s stored.

Now that the wet spring is over, farmers will be irrigating their fields to get the crop ready for the next cutting.

Even though the rain has made things a little tougher for Bair for the first harvest, he still expects to get his normal three crops of alfalfa, and two of his grass hay this year. He said that when conditions are good at lower elevations like Silt, some farmers can get up to four cuttings in a single season.

“We’ll try for two cuttings for grass, and three for alfalfa,” he said.

jgardner@postindependent.com


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