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The Last Windrow: It's a good year in hay country - so far

But farmers should know not to get their hopes up too high.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com
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This year it's a famine to feast in my part of the country.

I'm speaking of hay. You know, the stuff that horses munch on and cows milk on and hogs play on? It's the hay time of year.

A former farm boy takes notice of how things are growing come this time of year. On a drive through the country, if one pays attention you will see farmers out checking their crops. I saw one a few weeks ago as my family and I motored north through farm country.

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There in the middle of a large field was some farmer walking through his growing soybean crop. I find it interesting that with this day's advanced farming technology that a farmer would actually dismount from his giant, computer-driven tractor and actually physically walk through his bean field.

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Don't they have computers to do that? Evidently not. Somehow I find that refreshing.

Last year's mini-drought in my area of north-central Minnesota produced very little in the way of a hay crop. One thing this part of Minnesota is good for is growing upland hay. The grass doesn't doesn't need much prompting in a normal year. If there is a bare spot on the landscape, a crop of hay will soon appear.

A long ago Realtor in my community tried to sell land in this area, boasting of the crops the land would produce once the giant pine forests were removed. Well, he evidently didn't have a degree in agronomy.

This sandy, acid soil will truly grow pine trees and it will also produce an abundance of upland hay. Those who tried to plant corn and beans in those early days found that sand without rain meant a busted crop.

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Photo illustration / Shutterstock.com

Many folks, including my wife's parents, ended up in this part of Minnesota after drying out in the Dakotas in the "dirty '30s." As the crops and water disappeared from that area of the country, Minnesota with its great water resource was a magnet for many of them.

My father-in-law hopped into a freight train car along with his family's livestock and headed for Pine River. Here they found both water and grass, or what many called "upland hay." And they found it in abundance.

Farmers now have added alfalfa to the mix around these parts and in most years it does well with tending. But, it is known to freeze out with a brutally cold and snowless winter. The native grass has found a way to survive; and given rain, a crop will grow every year.

Last year it didn't rain.

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A nearby upland hay field near our house last year produced a meager dozen large round bales. That was it. Livestock feeders around this area had to go hunting for the treasured resource far and wide. Semi trucks loaded with hay could be seen on the highways throughout the area.

Not so this year.

That same field produced almost uncountable bales of hay this year. The bales have now been removed and a second crop may yet appear given another rain or two. The depressed comments I heard last year in the coffee cafe have disappeared. Things are looking up.

Although the old farm saying is to the effect that if it is a good day today, tomorrow might be different. No use getting your hopes up too high.

John Wetrosky
John Wetrosky (2022)

My time growing up on the farm saw a full hay mow as a sign that the farm would survive yet another year. Our Iowa farm dried out in 1956 and 1957, and hay had to be procured from ranches in Nebraska. I remember unloading those huge, wire-tied bales, and I do believe my present day back problems started about that time.

So, there is hay in this country this year. Hay yards are filling up with the prized commodity. Horses will be munching, cows will be milking and hogs will be playing. It is a good hay year.

But, don't get your hopes up too high. The other shoe could drop. This is farm country after all.

See you next time. Okay?

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