LINCOLN, Neb. — Harvesting high quality hay between rain and storm events can be a challenge. So, how do you best manage this risk?
Legumes like alfalfa are more impacted by rainfall than grass forages, especially if leaves are shattered or dropped from extra windrow raking or turning. Quality losses are minimal if the rain occurs soon after plants are cut off before the curing (drying) process begins.
Heavy (one inch-plus) rains typically leach 10% of the soluble sugar nutrients out of the hay, and losses can increase to over 30% if multiple rain events occur during curing. Typically, losses are usually from 5-15% with each additional rain.
To minimize rain damage, producers focus on limiting field exposure time after the forage is cut. Practices such as spreading windrows as wide as possible, chemical or mechanical conditioning, and timely raking can speed forage dry-down from two days to one-half day.
Another effective strategy is harvesting at higher moisture content. Chopping alfalfa for silage is a way to limit weather risks. A newer technique is to wrap high-moisture alfalfa as bale silage. All silage harvesting methods can move alfalfa off fields in two days or less.
A final strategy is to use protectants to bale alfalfa at a slightly higher than normal moisture content. Hay inoculant preservatives like propionic acid and acetic acid reduce mold formation and potential heat damage of baled alfalfa. These forage additives work well if the forage is just slightly wetter than normal and applied correctly under certain harvest conditions and can save as much as a full day of drying time.
— Todd Whitney, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska-Lincoln