Pasture, hay conditions improve; Illinois Forage Expo July 29

Baling begins on a Jasper County farm late last month. Farmers completed 71% of the first cutting of alfalfa and 56% of other hay as of May 31, 28 and 22 points ahead of the average pace, respectively, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office. (Photo by Daniel Grant)

Recent rains arrived in time to improve pasture conditions, enhance the grazing season and hopefully boost the next round of alfalfa/hay harvest in a large portion of the state.

But it was too late for much of the first cutting as that crop also was impacted by unseasonably cool conditions earlier this spring.

“Like so many other things in the Midwest, the cold snap the second half of April and early May slowed pastures and hayfields,” said Doug Hanson, president of the Illinois Forage and Grassland Council (IFGC), who farms near Danforth (Iroquois County). “A lot of people were concerned about that. Forage supplies were getting tight.”

Illinois farmers harvested 71% of the first cutting of alfalfa as of May 31 (28 points ahead of the average pace) and 56% of other hay (22 points ahead of average), the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office reported.

“We’ve seen a lot of hay (harvested),” Hanson said of the first cutting. “Early reports are tonnage is down, but quality is good. With the recent rains that came through the state, we should see a good second cutting and maybe improved tonnage.”

Numerous rounds of spotty rainfall in recent weeks also boosted pasture conditions statewide to 74% good to excellent, 24% fair and 2% poor to very poor as of May 31. The portion of pasture rated excellent improved 8 points from the previous week.

“One of the big things here in Illinois is over half the state was on the Drought Monitor, which was starting to make a lot of livestock producers nervous,” Hanson said. “People are feeling much better now. We’re definitely looking at better (pasture conditions) than we were a month ago.”

While much of the state received moisture in late May, including excess in portions of the southern half of the state, parts of northeast Illinois remain in severe to moderate drought while abnormal dryness continues in the northwest and along portions of the eastern border of Illinois.

Those looking to learn more about the forage industry should circle July 29 on the calendar as IFGC hosts the Illinois Forage Expo at Kilgus Farmstead in Fairbury (Livingston County) that day.

“We’re glad to get people outside. Everyone loves that hands-on opportunity,” said Hanson, who has about 65 cow/calf pairs on 75 acres and utilizes intensive grazing and cover crops on his farm.

The Forage Expo will feature educational opportunities, a hay contest, a grazing demonstration and field demonstrations, weather permitting.

Kilgus Farmstead, which produces locally fresh meat and dairy products, started bottling and distributing its own brand of milk in 2009.

For more information about the event, visit the IFGC website {illinoisforage.org}.