Okay, off on a rambling rant....
I cannot tell you how frustrated I become when I observe our local "farmers" making such idiotic, monumental mistakes.
Every year, more than half of them screw up big time, and lose the crop or just flat bale up crap. And their "business" suffers not just from poor quality hay either. They do not inform their customers when they plan on cutting, or baling, let alone which field they are in. They don't bother to ask anyone else to do that for them either....so many customers who might otherwise have saved them the work of picking up from the fields are frustrated also. Not a one of them uses a scale (okay maybe one or two!) so everyone just guesses what the bales weigh. This is not good for the farmer, OR the buyer.
They don't pay close enough attention to weather patterns, and don't look beyond what is showing on the Kenai radar-hello, try looking at what's forming off the Chinese mainland, would ya? That is where our highs and lows are generated as they move across the Pacific and please look at the jet stream, ok? And would you invest in a moisture tester AND a weather station for the field? And NOT bale when the relative humidity is high? Please?
And then there is the hot seat of making the decision to cut or not. Trust me, I have been there too, and I know exactly how it feels. The majority of hay farmers here wait and wait and wait....typically until around the 4th of July. Why why why? One guy confessed that he knew exactly how many more bales that grew each day *rolls eyeballs* if he waited! The taller the grass, the more bales! Well buddy, let me tell you, the longer you wait, the crappier the hay....got it? More stem equals more bulk, and reduced protien overall. More stem means greater chance the hay will mold because the joints on that straw are bigger! Trying to get around this by making the bales smaller only means you are ripping off your customers twice, got that too?
There is no comparison whatever between the premium hays grown in the L48 and what passes for timothy "hay" here in Southcentral. I have had more than one producer stop by as I was unloading vans of real grass, look enviously at it, then brag on their own production. They don't test their hay, most of them, so they have no idea how it stacks up against imported hay. Most aren't even aware what their fields lack, or even what the window for harvest is after application. They don't understand the stress that a too low setting on the mower does to the plants. Dudes and dudettes, I am here to tell you, it's about 40 to 45 days after application. Which puts the optimum cut time somewhere about mid June, or even earlier if the field was fortunate enough to get some early May rains. It does not mean waiting until the stalks are nearly standing cured it is so over mature!
They should know, every last one of them, what makes for quality hay. Even the weekend farmer, who has invested tens of thousands of dollars into equipment and fertilizers. And especially the "professionals" out there, producing many 1000s of bales. It really bites to loose it all to mold, as everyone knows. If you must bale to get that nearly dry hay up before a rain squall, for heavens sake *get off your tractor and loosen the bales*, would you? Trust me, every horse owner up here would rather buy smaller, looser squares (for a buck or two less) that stand a better chance of properly curing (instead of molding off) and adjust the price accordingly. Better to have satisfied customers who will COME BACK WHEN YOU CALL, then resentful people attempting to dump moldy hay back into your barn.
And guess what? Round ables should not be moldy either! I know many many people that would buy round bales, if they were of decent quality. But it's normal to have the farmer switch from a square baler over to the round baler, when they get tired of running squares and don't think they have the manpower to get it up. Wrap the darned stuff if its questionable and do not try to pass it off as "cow hay okay for horses" Trust me on this, some of us know better than to waste our money on over mature, straw like hay thats molded on the joints-it for darned sure is going to mold through.
And a final note: Dusty hay is not usually dusty. It's mold, 90% of the time. Don't believe me? Get out a magnifying glass and look carefully at those stems. See for yourself, if the yellow/brown color, stale and sour odor, and broom straw like appearance does not convince you of this. See the joints on the stems? That black stuff? See that fluff like looking grey/green stuff on the blades? Mold, mold, mold.
It just infuriates me that we could produce good quality hay, but don't. Yes I know our weather is more challenging than many areas of the US. But did you know you could shorten drying time by cutting earlier? Cutting earlier also drastically reduces weeds, too, an added benefit. Cutting earlier also allows the plant itself to recover, and provides a much greater chance at a second cutting as well.
You want to charge a premium for your hay? Go organic! Yes, you can really do this, there are things you can apply to your fields that are both economical and beneficial. Your yeild might be down a bit, but you will have a waiting list of customers, eager to purchase it. If you feed the land, it will feed you.
Words to remember from this rant, if nothing else applies to YOU.