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Unexpected storm dampens hay harvest

Just when conditions looked good for cutting hay, a thunderstorm passed through the Rogue Valley Monday evening.

Hay growers found themselves scrambling to "get 'er done" or wait a few days for things to dry out.

The never-ending hay-farmer-versus-nature routine is typically played out in two stanzas — late spring and fall — with irrigated alfalfa pastures sometimes rendering a third cut.

Southern Oregon's long winter and wet spring deceptively lulled some into thinking the pattern would carry on for a while. A week ago, the fields and hillsides were lush and green. But after a few days with the mercury touching 90, it changed everything.

"We thought it was plenty green enough, and then it dries up fast," said Ron Fumasi, who grows 150 acres of hay off Highway 140.

Fumasi anticipates tonnage could be up 20 percent on his acreage, depending on where cattle may have damaged fields over the winter. Of course, too much wet hay will cut into the yield.

"The hard part now is getting it up and in the barn," said Charlie Boyer, an Eagle Point farmer. "There's the right time to cut hay and then there's too late. Most everybody should have been cutting hay or right in the middle of it right now. This cool weather isn't helping nothing. You need to get the stuff dry, and the only way to dry it is warm weather."

In Boyer's perfect world, the atmospheric thermostat would be set for 85 degrees.

"You can cut anytime, but you need three or four days to cure it," Boyer said. "You can't put hay in a bale until it drys. Otherwise, it molds and then you have barn fires and all sorts of stuff because it was put up when it was too wet."

The dose of precipitation matters, Fumasi said.

"If you have an eighth of an inch of rain, it becomes an issue," Fumasi said. "You flip it over and wait for two extra days to bale; it lessens the quality, of course."

Eagle Point contractor Rob Lund, who supplies long-term clients with hay, found himself hurriedly pulling bales off his 80 acres.

With storms brewing, Lund, his wife and son raked, baled and picked up as thunderheads gathered overhead.

"I usually cut around Memorial Day, give it a few days to dry, and then bale it," Lund said. "I cut a third of the field and then back off because I knew the weather was coming. It's a tough business. You work when Mother Nature tells you to."

Last year's local hay supply is nearly depleted, Boyer said. That could elevate prices, closer to $200 per ton. At $5 a bale, a 32-bale ton costs $160. While horse and livestock owners might be tempted to journey to the Klamath Basin, Lakeview or even Christmas Valley to find hay for $160 or $170 per ton, he's of the opinion that might not pay off in the long run.

"You can't sell hay for $4 or $5 a bale and pay your expenses," Boyer said. "Generally, you get what you pay for. Bad hay can have a lot of things in it. If you have fox tail or thistle in it, the animals won't eat it and you've wasted the money. You end up paying $320. You'd be better off paying the $180 per ton here."

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31. 

Hay farmers either hurried harvest or will have to wait after an unexpected thunderstorm rolled through the Rogue Valley on Memorial Day. [Video still by Greg Stiles]