Cut Hay In AM or PM?

A common topic of debate among farmers is when to cut hay. Should you do it in the morning or afternoon? When you look at plant physiology, forages create carbohydrates during the daylight hours through photosynthesis. It’s at a higher rate than the plant needs for growth and maintenance during the day so sugar content is generally higher at dusk. However, the difference in sugar content between late evening and early morning is minor.

Dennis Hancock is a state Extension forage specialist at the University of Georgia. He says your climate is the key factor in timing when to cut hay.

"Because if you are able to cut without any risk of rain, then the best time to cut would be in the evening," says Hancock. "Particularly in an arid climate where even overnight, even though the temperatures are not as high, the relative humidity is low, and so the moisture gradient pulls moisture out of the crop even overnight."

In humid parts of the country where rain is more frequent, Hancock recommends cutting hay in the morning. But he says the weather trumps any strategy for time-of-day cutting because the greatest risk to hay curing and forage quality is rain damage.

"You wake up one morning and the weather forecast has three days of good drying conditions and 30%-40% chance in day 4 or 5, it’s better to go ahead and take full advantage of those three days that you know you’ve got really good drying conditions," he says. "The weatherman has pretty good skill at predicting days 1-3, but after about day 3 or so, their skill goes down."