There are no free lunches. Many peanut growers, especially those with cattle, have considered peanut hay as a side benefit of peanut production. They rarely weighed the cost of the nutrients removed when baling peanut hay.

When muriate of potash was $270 per ton a few years ago, baling peanut hay wasn’t as much of an economic decision as it is now with muriate prices hovering around $1,000 per ton. Farmers will have to consider if they can afford to bale their peanut hay.

Emanuel County Agent Mark Crosby and I took samples last year from numerous bales of peanut hay and had it analyzed for the fertilizer value. The nitrogen ranged from 1.36 to 1.74 percent phosphorus was stable at .11 to .15 percent and potassium varied from 1.6 to 2.65 percent with the average being 1.6 percent nitrogen, .13 percent phosphorus and 2.1 percent potassium.

The hay bales ranged from 850 to 1,400 pounds, but I believe the average peanut bale in Coffee County will average around 1,000 pounds.

I am going to keep the nutrient value from the fertilizer removed on a per bale basis rather than a per acre value since number of bales per acre is quite variable. I have seen the number of bales per acre rolled vary from just over two bales to five bales per acre. An average would be somewhere around three bales per acre.

Current fertilizer prices are extremely volatile, but currently nitrogen is around 80 cents per pound, phosphate at $1 per pound and potassium around 83 cents per pound, so each 1,000-pound bale of peanut hay would remove about $31.50 in fertilizer nutrients. All of these nutrients will not be available to next year’s crop (probably about 60 percent of the nitrogen and 80 percent of the phosphorus and potassium will be available for next year’s crop) and some of these nutrients will be lost before they are available to subsequent crops.

A good estimate of fertilizer removed from each bale of peanut hay that will eventually have to be replaced would be $25 per bale, not including the value of calcium, magnesium, manganese and boron or organic matter removed.

So a grower letting his neighbor or landlord roll his peanut hay would have to get at least $25 per bale to break even. The average cost of rolling peanut hay is $14 per bale so for farmers rolling their own peanut hay for feed or sale would have to get $40 per bale to break even.

There is also a correlation between removing peanut hay and an increased risk of stemphylium on the following cotton crops. Stemphylium is a cotton disease that is associated with late-season potassium deficiency. When growers remove large amounts of potassium with peanut hay and don’t replace it cotton becomes more susceptible to stemphylium. Stemphylium can cause premature defoliation and yield loss.