Sunshine saves hay crop from fungus-disease losses

The sunshine, wind and warmth of the last week helped Marion County farmers avoid what could have been a calamity, a huge additional loss in the hay crop following a hay-short year.

County Extension Agent Rickey Roberts said fungus diseases, primarily spring blackstem and leaf spot, were rapidly moving into the alfalfa fields, and actually had destroyed large sections of a few fields in the cool, wet, cloudy weather.

?The first cutting of alfalfa for the year had frozen,? Roberts said. ?We just lost it. The second cutting was really coming on, and I was concerned it was really in trouble. It was beginning to look like disease could just wipe out the second cutting, or at least half of it before the weather began to improve.

?Fungal diseases really thrive in a cool, moist environment,? he added. ?But now it doesn?t look as bad. A week ago I was really afraid of it. It was a huge concern, but, thankfully, it stopped.

?It did seem worse in the north half of the county, but we didn?t know how widespread the disease could get. Some producers did lose some fields for the second cutting, and that?s bad for them. Between the first and second cuttings, that?s more than half their normal alfalfa crop for the year.

?We don?t see anything like these conditions every year. Weather-wise, this has already been a very strange year.?

Roberts said the alfalfa losses are tough, but they are further exasperated by the history of the last couple of drought years. He said drought not only made hay crops short here, but in the southwestern states, especially the normally big hay producing states of Oklahoma and Texas, the hay supplies dwindled nearly to nothing.

?Down there they were buying all of the hay they could get their hands on,? Roberts said. Guys here were wrapping up everything they could harvest to ship out. We sold a lot of hay last year. It got to be a pretty valuable crop.?

Despite the early weather losses with the alfalfa, Roberts said the heavy rains could help reverse fortunes in creating heavy brome grass and prairie hay crops.

?The brome is coming on good. It?s about safe to say we?re going to have a brome crop. Brome needs that moisture very early on. For the last couple of years, we haven?t had that.

?Hay supplies remain very tight. But hopefully we?ll still get a lot of alfalfa. Hopefully the brome and prairie will turn out good. Hopefully we are going to begin building in a supply.?

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