Armstrong farmers contend with rain in making hay
Every dry, sunny day, Chris Hileman finds himself in his tractor, rushing toward his 100-acre hay field along Route 85 in Valley Township.
Hileman, like many farmers across Armstrong County, is racing to get his hay cut down and baled before more rain hits, making it impossible to do field work.
“The rain has made this a real chore this summer,” Hileman said. “You can't get in the fields when it's raining because the ground is too soft, but we've got too much rain, and hay doesn't like to grow in a swamp.
“This summer, people haven't been making hay like they want and need to, so I'm seriously worried there may be a shortage this fall and winter.”
This summer's heavy rain has kept most farmers from getting out to cut and bale hay on a regular basis, lowering the crop's quality and quantity, said Ed Huston, executive director of the Armstrong County Farm Service Agency.
Huston said hay is one of Armstrong County's top crops. According to the USDA's website, last year, farmers harvested 19,500 tons of hay from 13,000 acres in Armstrong County. It accounted for about $4.3 million of the county's $50 million agriculture industry.
This year, the yield could be a little bit smaller, he said.
“The production has been later, so farmers may not get out for a third or fourth normal cutting of hay this year,” Huston said. “It all depends on how much rain we get.”
Ideally, hay farmers want one day of rain, followed by five sunny days, to have time to bring in the best yield, Huston said.
Like most fruits and vegetables, hay needs to be harvested early in the plant's life cycle, so it does not become overripe and lose its nutritional value, Huston said.
“We may see the tonnage, but not the quality,” Huston said. “Farmers need to get it cut and baled early, when there is more protein in the plant.”
Hileman said each summer, he usually cuts and bales hay two times. Last week, he made his first cut, but isn't optimistic about a second.
“A lot of hay at this point is already past its prime,” Hileman said. “If I can get all of the standing hay off the field now, and throw on a lot of fertilizer, hopefully I'll be able to do a second, but I just don't know.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-543-1303, ext. 1337, or firstname.lastname@example.org.