STARKVILLE, Miss. (WJTV) – Mississippi hay growers harvested at least 28% less hay this year than usual because of the drought that reached extreme levels in parts of the state.

Brett Rushing, Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension forage agronomist, said hay producers in the state typically get three cuttings a year, and often four if they manage well and the weather cooperates.

“This year, you were truly blessed to get maybe two,” Rushing said. “A lot of the second cutting was delayed by quite a bit of rain in June and July. We had drought conditions after that, and although growers kept waiting to get a third cutting, the forage never could get going.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated on October 16 that 58% of pastures were in very poor or poor condition. Another 29% of pastures were in fair condition, with only 1% in excellent shape and the rest in good condition. Their estimation of hay crop conditions was similar to this estimation.

Rushing said central and south Mississippi were most affected by the drought that began in early July and continues today. The state is about 15 inches below average in accumulated rainfall, and with just over two months left in the year, unlikely to catch up in time to make a difference.

Mississippi hay producers typically harvest every 40 to 45 days. This summer, growers who got a third cutting waited about 75 days for the forage to grow. Cool nighttime temperatures that began in October slowed any remaining grass growth.

Most Mississippi livestock producers grow their own hay annually, storing it for winter and selling any excess. MSU livestock experts recommend producers keep 30 percent more hay each year than they think they will need.