Record rains soak Idaho hay
By John O’Connell
Magic Valley and Eastern Idaho alfalfa growers fear a week of continuously wet weather has caused widespread damage to cut hay, and even some uncovered bales.
Many producers with potatoes, sugar beets and pasture, however, expect a late-season boost from the storms.
According to the National Weather Service, Burley and Idaho Falls broke moisture records each day from Aug. 5-7, with some storms dumping nearly half an inch. Pocatello set new moisture records on Aug. 4, 5 and 7. Jefferson and Bingham counties reported flooding of farmland on Aug. 5, and Twin Falls was inundated with up to 3.15 inches on Aug. 6.
University of Idaho Extension forage specialist Glenn Shewmaker said the rain has soaked second cuttings in Eastern Idaho, as well as late second cuttings of beef hay and third cuttings of dairy hay in Magic Valley. Shewmaker worries about the potential for mold, nutrient leaching and spontaneous combustion in damp hay.
“One of the things that concerns me a little more, there was enough rain on uncovered stacks that it probably went through the first bale,” Shewmaker said. “We could have more hay fires and a bunch of ruined hay. Monitor your stacks.”
Blackfoot area grower Dewey Stander had 1,000 acres of hay in windrows when the first storm arrived on the morning of Aug. 4. The cut hay quickly turned black with mold.
“It’s the ugliest hay I’ve ever been a part of,” Stander said.
Stander, a field worker and his sons Jake and Luke have stacked hay bales on end, leaving space between them, to facilitate drying and minimize the risk of spontaneous combustion. They tried to resume baling on Aug. 7 during a brief respite from the rain but had to stop because their equipment was leaving ruts in the wet soil.
Monteview grower Will Ricks, president of the Idaho Hay and Forage Association, said he had a lot of high-quality hay on the ground when the storms came. That hay is now relegated to feeder status.
“I think there’s a lot of hay on the ground right now,” Ricks said. “This rain would have been great back in April.”
Idaho Falls area grower Marc Thiel worries about 500 bales of uncovered hay he still has out in his fields. He’s also concerned some of his barley might sustain sprout damage, though Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobsen is optimistic the rain will delay grain harvests but shouldn’t hurt quality much. Thiel also plans to spray more fungicide on his potatoes in case the moisture leads to a late blight flare-up.
Not all producers regard the rain as bad news. American Falls farmer Klaren Koompin believes the storms provided a reprieve from heat and will add bulk to his spuds and sugar beets.
McCammon farmer and rancher Jim Guthrie is optimistic that the rain has saved 85 acres of his newly planted alfalfa, which he feared would die when his surface water rights ran out about a month ago. Guthrie also believes new growth in his pastures should enable him to keep cattle on the range longer rather than feeding them hay.