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As winter nears, producers ponder Virginia hay supply

October 2023

(Courtesy Gerhard Bögner, Pixabay)

by Delmarva Farmer

Virginia livestock producers are wondering if the state’s hay supply will meet their needs this winter. Several factors are in play as they ponder this question.

Grazing practices and the erratic rainfall patterns earlier this year have left their mark.

More farmers have been stockpiling forages for fall/winter pastures rather than making hay. The dryer conditions that began in August and have continued into October have hindered growth and meant animals had to graze fields usually designated for stockpiling.

The National Drought Monitor released Oct. 12 showed some improvement overall in the state’s drought situation: however, the recent rains have not solved it.

Drought designations ranged from severe drought in a few counties in the northeastern part of the state, to moderate drought in parts of the Shenandoah Valley to abnormally dry in much of western and southwest Virginia.

Tom Stanley, farm business management Extension agent in the Shenandoah, said Rockbridge County seems to be the border county in defining drought conditions there. The drought conditions have been worse to the north.

In the New River Valley to the southwest, Extension agent Meredith Hoggatt has developed a new tool for farmers dealing with hay. It is a Hay Bulletin. This allows those who have hay to sell and those who are looking for it to list their information.

While she pinpointed at her own Montgomery County as well as Pulaski, Floyd and Giles counties, she said that farmers in adjoining counties welcomed the opportunity to use the bulletin.

She pointed out that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has the Virginia Hay Clearing Service that lists such information as well.

It usually includes information in southern and eastern parts of the state, areas not lacking in rainfall this year.

Both agents talked about the way changed grazing practices are playing a part in diminished supplies.

This includes starting to feed earlier because stockpiling has been limited by dry conditions.

This coupled with less hay being made in anticipation of plentiful stockpiled forage has some livestock producers looking for hay.

Hoggatt said hay production is decreasing as costs to make hay continue to rise.

She said farmers doing this plan to buy from others.

There does appear to be quality hay available across the state from those who have chosen to grow it rather than run livestock on their land.

Hoggatt said she began working on her NRV Hay Bulletin as a way to encourage the growers to take advantage of the hay testing option so they know the quality of their product.

The Delmarva Farmer is a weekly newspaper for farmers, farming and the agriculture industry in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.