The abundant and constant rainfall across much of Ohio this spring that extended well into summer for many, has severely reduced the amount of high quality hay harvested in the state. While the weather forecast suggests that the next week or so will provide lots of opportunity for dry hay harvest, due to the late harvest of the previous cutting, hay simply may not be ready to make again. That, along with the temptation to make up for short forage supplies with a later cutting of high quality hay, and a calendar that is quickly moving into September, creates some challenging decisions for the hay manager.
With fall upon us, perennial plants will soon begin to actively store energy reserves in their roots in the form of carbohydrates that are used for winter survival and regrowth next spring. Much the same as Rory Lewandowski described in this publication a couple years ago regarding fall pasture management, cutting too late in September or October interrupts the carbohydrate storage process because the plant will use its root reserves after being cut in an effort to initiate more regrowth. Considering the enormous stress that forage stands have experienced this year, a late cutting in the midst of the energy storage phase will add additional stress to forage stands. Once cutting has been delayed much beyond mid-September, it's best to consider delaying harvest into late October or early November after the plants have completed their energy storage phase.
In the case of alfalfa, killing frost happens when air temperatures reach 25 degrees F for several hours. If there's much alfalfa and/or red clover in the hay stand, it's particularly important to time the last harvest at least 30 days before freezing temperatures are expected in order to safely maintain a healthy stand into next spring. Lewandowski detailed the concerns with timing the last cutting of alfalfa after a cool, wet spring last year in this publication.
Careful planning and management of forage stands over the next 6-8 weeks can have a significant impact on next year's total yield and perhaps even survival of the stand.