The Agronomists, Ep 121: Making hay and silage in challenging conditions with Dan Undersander and Christine O’Reilly

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

It’s that time of the week — time to catch up on the latest and greatest in agronomy. Host Lyndsey Smith looks forward to this topic every year, as she gets to talk forages!

For this episode of The Agronomists, Smith is joined by Dan Undersander, professor emeritus from the University of Wisconsin, and Christine O’Reilly, hay and grazing specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) to discuss making hay in challenging conditions.

This episode of the Agronomists is brought to you by ADAMA Canada, RealAg Shops, and Profitable Practices.


  • Wow — variable conditions, indeed. Some places it won’t stop raining, while others simply can’t get enough. This makes haying TOUGH.
  • The northern half of Wisconsin has been very wet too, with the southern part of the season witnessing the largest drought they’ve seen in years.
  • Cut the hay… and wash it several times?
  • Remember — dryness is relative
  • It could be a very tough year to find hay
  • A number of areas are going from extreme drought to flooding. This yo-yo effect is difficult to work with and predict
  • Continued high prices, and lots of cattle likely selling. On the positive side, prices are good for hay growers
  • Ontario is a big province, you guys
  • First cut in many areas of Ontario started way earlier than usual
  • The highest risk for spontaneous combustion is in the first three months of storage. Keep an eye out, and check often. Fires do happen.
  • Silos can also explode. Pay attention to the fire risk triangle.

CLIP 1: How much fertility does a hay crop need? 

  • Plenty of areas are seeing sulphur deficiencies. Remember what we are taking off
  • Forages are great for rotations! Especially corn
  • Check out the field crop budget for hay
  • Maybe we need to consider a tighter rotation, and repeat alfalfa more often. Yes, the seed is expensive, but the benefits pay you back, too
  • It’s not always the amount of years when it comes to how long you should keep the alfalfa. It comes down to the amount of cuts. This is the stressor
  • Even if it looks good — 9-12 cuts, and the alfalfa should be taken off. Unless you are a dairy farmer — then that number will be higher, as the cuts per year will be higher
  • Your potassium application should likely be a split app when it comes to alfalfa
  • Grasses need a shot of nitrogen every time you want them to grow
  • Don’t forget that your forages can still be impacted by a whole suite of insects, too
  • Cutting is the main control method for insects. If you take away their food…
  • A little tip — potato leaf hopper can actually look like drought. You may think it’s drought, but it’s actually the insect. Similar symptoms.
  • The good news is — alfalfa comes back continuously.
  • Is there a pro or a con to wrapping dry bales? Is it at all detrimental if it’s truly dry hay?
  • Slumpy bails? You’ll have to listen on to find out!

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