Rainy Summer Affects Area Hay Crop

A farmer hays between the White River and Route 14 in South Royalton in this 2016 photo. (Herald File / Tim Calabro)

The summer of ’17 will be remembered as being a bit cooler than usual, with dozens of bright sunny days—and more rain showers than usual. Those showers seldom lasted long and didn’t impact many summer recreation plans.

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But for dairy farmers, it was a different story, and a contradictory one.

“It didn’t turn out so good for us,” commented Marjorie VanAlstein in East Barnard. “There was all that rain.”

She and her husband Floyd run a beef farm in East Barnard and had two somewhat disappointing cuttings.

On the other hand, Corey Chapman in Tunbridge called it “a really good year” for haying. Chapman milks 50 cows but feeds 115.

“Everything kept growing back really, really fast,” he said.

The difference wasn’t between East Barnard and Tunbridge, however: it was the difference in the technology used on the two farms.

For farmers who bale their hay into the square bales that have marked the summer landscape for years, it was a tough year.

Before it goes through the baler, this hay has to be dried thoroughly in the field. If it doesn’t it can spoil—and if damp hay makes it into the barn, it can moulder and catch fire, sometimes destroying barns.

Dry hay is a must.

Marshmallow Bales

However, for farmers who roll their hay into the now-common round bales, the year was a good one. That’s because the hay (clothed in white plastic, the bales are often described as marshmallows) does not have to dry as thoroughly as the square-baled hay.

It’s a more expensive way to hay than the old one, but in years like this it pays off. Partly because of the frequent light showers, the hay grew and just kept growing.

Following the weather in hay season is like following the weather during sugaring time, commented Beth Kennett of Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester.

She and her husband Bob have 112 acres of hay and have not yet moved to the round bale technology, which is quite expensive. They’ve found it a difficult year for hay and are “significantly behind” in getting it in because of the showers.

However, she is philosophical. “I’m thankful for every blade of grass,” she said.

Long Hours

Keith Sprague of North Randolph, who operates the biggest dairy farm in the area, milking 600 cows and feeding 1,200, said that this summer’s weather has meant long hours in the fields for himself and his workers.

Sprague’s farm mostly produces a different hay product altogether. He does use some round bales but mostly he gathers hay in the form of raw sileage, which can have a higher moisture content than bales, and he has even made some dry hay recently.

The showers “definitely did affect us a lot,” he said. “When the weather was good we had to work as much as 20 hours a day, working into the night, to get it done.”

His farm includes 700 acres of grass and 700 acres of corn.

In all, it was a good summer, and the hay was of good quality, he said, noting, “We’re happy.”


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