‘Lost Season’

Posted July 24, 2009, at 8:36 p.m.

CLINTON, Maine — Farmers are watching their hay crops being ruined and their feed corn shrivel as rain continues to plague Maine’s farming industry.

“Everything is just devastated,” Dr. Rick Kersbergen of the Waldo County Cooperative Extension said Friday.

Kersbergen is a grass and fodder crop expert and maintains the state “hay directory” for producers looking to market their hay and for livestock farmers looking to purchase hay.

Hay and corn in the fields are at the stage they would be at the end of June. “But it’s the end of July,” Kersbergen said.

“Farmers are now looking to out-of-state suppliers because there is no hay out there for sale at this point,” he said. “The farmers are scared.”

This has been a bad year for dairy farmers: Milk prices have plummeted and rain has prevented farmers from getting onto their fields to harvest hay. Nutrients they applied to help crop quality and growth simply washed away in the rain.

The longer hay grows without a cutting, the poorer the nutritional quality and the more money farmers will spend this winter to supplement it. Cornfields are rotting without enough sun or heat to ripen the plants.

“The season is lost,” Julie Marie Bickford of the Maine Dairy Industry Association said Friday. “With milk prices so low and this feed disaster on top of it, farmers are like deer in the headlights.”

As bad as the feed shortage is for dairy farms, she said, the horse industry is in even worse straits. “Dairy farmers may be able to salvage some round bales, but those who use dry hay, like the horse industry, are worse off. This crisis hurts beyond just dairy.”

Hay and corn are critical components of livestock feed, Bickford said. “This stunted corn and alfalfa is forcing farmers to purchase grain and feeds. That is a very bad situation. Prices are extremely high because of the Midwest floods earlier this year. Maine’s farmers couldn’t come up with a worse situation in their worst dreams.”

On Thursday, a 75-year-old former dairy farmer visited the Wright Place in Clinton. He recalled delivering glass bottles of milk and told Brian Wright that he never remembered a rainier summer.

“This is unreal,” Wright said. He cut back from 700 acres of feed corn to 600 acres to trim his budget this year, and now he may not get to harvest much of that.

“All the nutrients have washed away. That corn is not looking well,” he said. “It’s a double whammy: the low price of milk and now this rain.”

Kersbergen said some farmers were able to get a first crop of hay into their barns but most were unable to harvest.

“Many livestock owners purchase their hay from other growers,” Kersbergen said, and the University of Maine hay directory will help link producers and suppliers.

The site is www.umext.maine.edu/Waldo/hay/.

Growers who have hay for sale may contact the UMaine Extension Waldo County office by calling 800-287-1426 to be added to the directory. A form also is available on the Web site for updates. Inquiries may be directed to Sonia Antundes at santunes@umext.maine.edu.

Extension also offers numerous resources for growers and purchasers of hay and hay products. The listing of resources includes information on hay quality, testing labs, sampling as well as equine fact sheets, online at www.umaine.edu/livestock/hay.htm.

For more information about growing and buying quality feed, contact Kersbergen at 800-287-1426 or Richard Brzozowski at 800-287-1471.

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