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Weather hampers hay harvest

By Charles Young

TEAYS VALLEY - Over the past month, the region's weather conditions have oscillated between hot and wet, and just plain hot.

That erratic weather has taken a toll on the productivity of the region's hay farmers this summer.

Will Legg, 18, an employee of Valdeacourt Farms in Putnam County, said the less-than-favorable conditions have slowed down hay cultivation and harvesting operations considerably.

"For hay, to do just one field, you need at least three dry days. You need a day to cut it, a day for it to sit and dry - preferably two - and another day to bale it," he said. "We can't really get in the fields if there's six inches of water standing in the low spots."

Normally, a hay farmer is able to get two to three harvests per field over the course of a cultivation season lasting from mid-May to October.

This year, Legg said many of the fields on the 300-acre farm probably wouldn't be viable enough to warrant a second cutting.

"We end up cutting a field, then it rains on it and we're done," he said. "People won't buy hay if it's been rained on."

Legg said the extreme heat has caused rapid growth of weeds and other undesirable plants, which cut down on the amount of actual hay produced.

"There's more in the fields, but less of the good stuff," he said.

According to the National Weather Service, the region had a total of 7.12 inches of rainfall in June as compared to the average of 4.09 inches.

June also saw three days where temperatures reached 89 degrees, a rarity in a month with a normal average temperature of 83.

Last week, the area felt the effects of a heat wave that swept through much of the central and eastern United States. Five days last week, temperatures rose past 90 degrees, leading the weather service to place much of the region under a heat advisory.    

So far, the area has had 5.4 inches of rainfall in July.

Bill Rice, 54, of Putnam County, said the combination of too much rain and excessive heat has put his 150-acre operation more than a month behind schedule.

"I'm just now getting the first cutting done," he said. "There may not be some second cuttings because the weather put me so far behind and it won't have time to come back."

Rice said he has been forced to work around the weather, cutting his fields when he normally wouldn't just because the rain finally let up.

"As soon as it stops raining, I'll have to jump in and start cutting even though it's wet," he said. "Normally I like at least a day or two for the ground to drain before I start cutting, but I just haven't had that option."

Because of the delays, Rice said he doubts he'll be able to turn a profit from this year's harvests.

"This year's going to be lucky to break even, with all this loss. When the hay is like this, people don't want to buy it. They look at it and say, 'That hay's bad,' and you end up having to drop the price."

Rice said his overall bottom line would ultimately depend on conditions for the rest of summer.

"This all depends on the weather, and we all depend on it," he said.    

Contact writer Charles Young at charles.young@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.


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