Weather jeopardizes June hay crop
The wet weather this spring may have cost Island farmers their early hay crop, according to David Douglas, who harvests more hay than any other Vineyard farmer. Mr. Douglas normally cuts hay from late May through November, but says that this month he has been able to cut only about 10 percent of the fields he normally cuts, and the same appears to be true all over the Island, and in fact all over Massachusetts.
The wet, cool spring with limited sunlight has not hurt the crop's ability to grow. There are fields on Martha's Vineyard where the grass is waist high and lush. Even the clover is knee high in places. But, Mr. Douglas explained in a telephone conversation, "When it's standing in the fields, it's only grass." Before it can be hay - harvested, baled, and stored to feed to animals - it must be dried. Mr. Douglas says that takes three dry days in a row.
Storing damp hay is risky, whether the hay is in bales or loose in a haymow. Not only would the hay be likely to spoil because of mold or mildew, but the bacteria working in the middle of densely packed hay can raise the temperature inside the stack to the point where it actually catches fire. Farmers have lost barns because of insufficiently dried hay.
On the Vineyard, there have not been even two dry days in a row for the whole month of June so far. According to www.wunder-ground.com, June scattered four sunny days here, with two more forecast for today and Monday. While there has not been an unusual volume of rain, there have been 16 days with at least some rain, and more is forecast for Sunday. Last week, the Blue Hills Observatory reported that it had received unfiltered sunshine on only 35 percent of daylight hours, or about half of the normal 63 percent for June.
After the grass reaches its peak ripeness, usually in early June for the first cutting, it begins to loose its value as fodder. Much of the Vineyard crop has been ready for harvest for weeks and losing nutrition ever since. Even if this year's crop could be cut today, it would be of poor quality, much coarser than normal, according to Mr. Douglas. Even worse, the grass has stood in the fields so long that much of it is "lodged," bent down by the weight of the moisture collected on the grain heads. Ironically, the better the grass, the more likely it is to be ruined this way. "If you fertilized your fields," he said, "the grass is flat."
Mr. Douglas opines that much of this month's hay crop will be good only for mulch hay or straw, not to feed to animals. Nevertheless, it will have to be cut and removed from the fields, because there will be a second crop and a third coming along, already behind schedule.
The loss of this month's local hay crop will not be disastrous for all who raise livestock here. Locally grown hay is cheaper, because it doesn't have to be trucked here, but there has always been a limited supply of it, and most Vineyard animals are fed on hay imported from New York, Vermont, or Canada anyway. The loss is more symbolic, a reminder of the ephemeral nature of local sustainable agriculture.