Jerry Samples’ alfalfa fields on Devils Hollow Road stand about 20 inches high and are ready for their third mowing of the year.
The 70-year-old farmer can’t predict how many times he’ll cut and bale the cattle feed this season, but this year has been abnormal for his alfalfa.
“I first mowed it on April 6,” Samples said of his decision to mow the 24-inch crop. “That’s a month before I’ve ever mowed any before.”
Farmers typically start mowing and baling hay in May, but a mild winter and ideal weather have caused an early harvest for many, though some haven’t been so lucky.
Keenan Bishop, county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, says he hasn’t seen anything like this year’s hay crop.
“There’s a bunch that I’ve talked to who have never, ever cut hay before in April,” Bishop said Monday. “(They’re) 70-80-year-old farmers and this is the first time they’ve cut hay in April.
“… I talked to one guy this morning, and he said this is going to be the first year he’ll have all of his first cutting done by July 4.”
About two-thirds of Franklin County farmers have plenty of hay while about a third are lagging, he said.
The finicky weather may not be over as storms and showers have been scarce recently. Central Kentucky is in a moderate drought, according to the University of Kentucky Agricultural Weather Center, and needs more than 7 inches of precipitation to catch up.
“Now with this dry weather, my worry is before too long we’ll be needing some of that hay that we think we have excess of,” Bishop said.
With a relatively mild winter this year, vegetation grew earlier than normal. As a result, some farmers were able to conserve hay, Bishop said.
He also noted that grass matured a lot faster this year.
Fair weather and weevils prompted Samples to mow his alfalfa early this year, he said. The grass was too tall to spray for the beetles, and he cut a Florida vacation about two weeks short because of the unseasonably warm weather here.
“I was surprised,” said Samples, whose alfalfa was judged best by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Hay Testing Program for the month of September.
“I just can’t get over how big the alfalfa had grown because it didn’t have that much of a bad winter with cold weather, and alfalfa comes out before anything else.”
He mowed again three weeks ago and says he typically cuts his alfalfa about four times in a season, sometimes as many as five.
“It just depends on how early you get it cut and if you have good weather between cuttings,” Samples said, noting that timing a harvest during a week of dry weather is key so clipped grass can cure in the sun.
“… But a lot of times about the time it’s ready to cut, they’ll be predicting rain for two or three days, and you’ll hold off, and it’ll rain for two or three days, and they say rain again after that in another three days, so a lot times it can delay you as much as two weeks later than when it should be cut.”
Hay’s not the only plant benefiting from the mild winter. Bishop said white clover has grown so well this year that some farmers are concerned about possibly bloating their cattle.
“It was a big concern because there’s some fields where they’ve not seeded clover in years, and that’s the predominant species,” Bishop said. “Even red clover was coming back this year. It typically doesn’t last but two or three years, even when managed well.”