Farmers prepare for shortage of hay in wake of drought

This season's drought is forcing some farmers to prepare for a shortage of hay this winter.

This season's drought is forcing some farmers to prepare for a shortage of hay this winter.

Normally, farmers start feeding hay to their cattle in November. Because of this season’s unusually dry pastures, forage experts say many have been forced to start feeding hay one to two months earlier than normal.

That could mean less hay to get those cows through the winter.

“I think this [drought] is going to affect us more than the ones in the past,” said Sevierville farmer Roger Radel.

Radel owns two farms in Sevier County with more than 70 cows. Radel says the local market for cattle is already suffering with a rising cost of hay that could force him to sell off his cows early.

“What’s going to happen is we’ll probably end up selling some cattle that we weren’t planning on selling,” he said.

In most pastures across Tennessee, producers have two main opportunities per year for hay cuts. One in the spring, and another between July and early September. Dr. Gary Bates, director of the UT Beef and Forage Center, said the drought minimized the second cutting.

“A lot of producers are reporting that they have 25 to 30 percent less hay than they normally have,” Bates said.

Bates said the drought is impacting farmers across the state -- mostly in middle and east Tennessee – but consumers should not yet expect an impact on the supply or price of beef.

"For the average consumer to see an impact, it needs to be almost a region-wide drought, like a Southeastern drought,” Bates said. “And it actually doesn't hurt you immediately in terms of the price. That would be another year or so down the road."

For Radel, it's not the first drought he's survived, but he worries this one could hurt more than others.

“It’s just going to be tough," Radel said.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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