What To Do With Unharvested Hay

The combination of wet conditions and heavy, clay soil can make it nearly impossible for farmers to harvest soggy hay fields. If they try, there’s a good chance they’re not coming back out until things dry up some.

Jim Isleib is a crop production educator at Michigan State University. He says in 2017, there were thousands of acres on the eastern upper peninsula of Michigan that went unharvested due to the soggy ground.  When this happens, you can’t sell such bad quality hay and you don’t want to feed it to your own animals.  Isleib says you can’t just leave it there because the plants will mat down and affect the quality of next year’s hay. The best options are to burn off the hay, or chop it up and spread it across the field.

"Burning off the hay destroys a lot of organic matter and nutrients that would be good for the soil, and good for the following crop. There are a couple of factors that make that probably the second choice for our producers in this area, and that is the cost of doing it," says Isleb. "Another is that the soil conditions have to improve enough so that you can get a flail mower or a chopper out there."

Isleb says when you can get out there, chopping and returning the hay to the field has its advantages.

"If you have equipment that will chop up the hay and spread it more evenly, that’s a better option if chopping and spreading that unusable or unharvestable hay is the decision that’s made, then, getting it spread out evenly is the best scenario," he says. "And you do then retain some nutrients and organic matter that would otherwise be lost."