How about hay?


Frost damage and the dry August conditions have prompted farmers to consider cutting cereal crops for hay.

In recent weeks several Mallee cereal and vetch crops have been cut ready for baling. However, before making the decision to cut moisture-stressed or frosted crops, growers are advised to inspect their paddocks carefully and to do the sums.

When assessing crops for frost damage look closely at the developing grain head, noting its colour (white/brown as opposed to green) and looking for any signs of tipping or lost florets.

At a series of frost workshops conducted across the Wimmera and Mallee recently, advisors were shown how stem frost can be identified by placing a handful of plant stems into a bucket of water coloured with food dye. In a healthy plant, the coloured dye will translocate up the stem to the leaves and the head. If stem frost is severe, translocation will be restricted and the colour of the head will remain unchanged.

Generally though, experienced growers have a pretty good idea about their paddocks and the extent of damage their crops have suffered. Simply by driving through paddocks farmers will notice the absence of the sound of full and healthy cereal heads hitting the side of the ute. As one Mallee agronomist recently put it, “They just know.”

Even if a paddock is expected to produce a poor yield grain, the costs of making hay and the likely returns need to be worked out. Before calling the contractors, growers should realistically estimate the crops ability to produce harvestable grain and research the hay markets carefully. Logistics, storage, conditioning and curing also need to be considered.

If assessments and calculations show that hay is the best outcome for the crop, then take action on that decision as soon as possible. Start with crops that are least likely to respond to rain. Delaying cutting already very stressed crops will further dry down the leaf which can reduce quality and make the crop more difficult to bale (greater leaf loss).

The rule of thumb is to cut hay crops at beer can height. BCG research conducted at Manangatang in 2007 showed that 35 to 40 per cent of a cereal crops bulk is below 12.5cm. Cutting lower than 12.5cm is likely to increase hay yield, but may also increase the paddock’s erosion risk.  Try to strike a compromise between yield, quality (no contamination) and ease on machinery.

For canola, earlier cutting will improve hay quality but also produces lower yields. Unless there are good premiums available for high quality canola hay, the optimum time of cutting is late flowering.

Most dairy farmers prefer canola to be conditioned, which can improve hay quality. But with canola hay being less palatable than lucerne or clover hay, careful marketing is required.

For more information on assessing crops for frost damage and cutting crops for hay phone BCG on (03) 5492 2787.

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