Many Kentucky corn and hay producers have faced delays this spring due to extremely wet conditions. However as summer nears, the rain is expected to slow and allow farmers time to finish their spring tasks.
Most of the state is extremely moist. As of May 19, the state was 4.04 inches above normal rainfall totals. Keys Arnold, staff meteorologist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said rainfall for the week of May 12 was 1.56 inches, which was 0.19 inches above normal rainfall totals for the week. Despite the above average total, the spout is slowly turning off.
“I expect the rain to start tapering off,” Arnold said. “While we were 0.19 inches above normal last week, there were some weeks throughout March and April when rainfall totals were 1.1 to 2.5 inches above normal.”
While wet weather has caused many corn producers to get a late start planting, the rain has held off enough for about 70 to 80 percent of all the state’s corn to be in the ground, said Chad Lee, UK Extension grains specialist. The remaining corn seed is intended for soils located near river bottoms, prone to flooding and with poor drainage.
Typically if corn is planted after May 10, it could suffer yield loss. However, producers should resist the temptation to try to plant when the ground is wet or muddy because this could cause additional problems.
“If you mud it in, you could get compaction in the furrow, which can cause stand problems and nutrient uptake problems,” Lee said. “It’s better off to delay planting for a couple of days than to mud it in, but the challenge is to guess whether or not there will be an extra day or two for soil drying.”
Despite the late start to the year, Lee said harvest will not necessarily be later than normal.
“It depends on the type of summer we have,” he said. “If there is more sun and less cloud cover, producers should be able to harvest at the same time as in previous years.”
While the majority of corn is in the ground, much of the hay remains in the field. Tom Keene, UK hay specialist, said producers across the state are far behind on first cuttings.
“Only a small amount of hay has been cut,” he said. “This is certainly not like a normal year.”
The rain has been both a curse and a blessing for hay producers. While they have not been able to cut hay, the rain has helped drought-weary fields recover and increased the volume for pasture production. It has also allowed plants to mature slower, which means they don’t need to be cut as soon.
Despite last year’s drought and the wet spring this year, it is too early to worry about a hay shortage.
“If we get a week to 10 days of nice weather, there will be an opportunity for producers to cut a fair amount of nice hay,” Keene said.
Similar to corn producers, hay producers should not cut while the ground is wet. Cutting hay with the ground wet could destroy the field. Even once the hay is cut, wet soil conditions will cause the hay to take longer drying out.
“With the ground saturated, it’s going to wick moisture out of the soil,” Keene said. Producers will have to move the hay to dry the top of the soil which will cause it to take an extra day for the hay to cure.”
As the fields recover from the drought, Keene expects soil quality to be a key determining factor for hay yields. Many farmers opted not to fertilize their fields this year because of the high cost of nitrogen. He urges farmers who have not had a soil test this year to do so, even if it means soil testing after the first cutting and adding nutrients to the field before a second cutting.
“I know many farmers say ‘fertilizer is too high,’ and they have a valid point. Fertilizer is extremely high, but is it going to be cheaper next year? I see nothing that’s going to make it any cheaper,” he said.