Dry, hot N.H. summer: Drought affecting hay sales in the Granite State

  • A cloud of dirt rises behind a farmer haying in a field behind Brochu Nursery off of Commercial Street in Concord recently. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • The hay storage area of the Concord Equestrian Center is bare compared to what it usually looks like this time of year. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

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Published: 8/17/2016 7:29:04 PM

You can see the effect of the hot, dry summer of 2016 in the hayloft of the Concord Equestrian Center.

“Usually it’s fuller,” said Kelly O’Brien, owner of the Sanborn Road riding stable.

The center, which stables about 20 horses, buys about 5,500 bales of hay each year. O’Brien said she’s glad she has a regular supplier in Hilltop Feeds in Loudon, because widespread drought means hay is likely to become expensive and harder to find as the year continues.

“It is definitely a cause for concern. I have people calling me to find out where I get hay from,” O’Brien said. “If you don’t have a really solid supplier, I don’t know what folks are going to do.”

With Central New Hampshire in moderate drought and the southeastern part of the state in extreme drought, John Porter of the UNH Cooperative Extension agreed that owners of horses, sheep, cows and other animals that need supplemental hay should look sharp, especially because pastures have dried out, making hay even more important.

“It’s a good time to start locking in your supplies now,” he said.

Farmers in New Hampshire can usually count on getting two crops, known as cuts, of hay each year, with commercial farms getting three or even four. The second cut happens in mid to late August, but a shortage of rain and a plethora of high temperatures since the first cut in spring have stunted it.

“I had a pretty good first cut; second cut isn’t growing as fast,” said Lou Gangi, owner of Cloverdale Feed and Farm Supply in Webster. “Some people are worried about second cut.”

At Tamarack Farm in Canterbury, co-owner Jim Snyder was seeing the effects of the weather.

“I actually just mowed second cut this morning, earlier than I would have liked to,” he said Wednesday.

His first cut was affected, even though it grew well. “It was drying so fast it was hard to get it baled before it was overdry and burnt,” he said.

The drought is affecting large areas of the Northeast. Southeastern New Hampshire is particularly hard hit, as are Eastern Massachusetts and parts of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Also affected is New York state, a regular supplier of hay to New Hampshire horse farmers.

O’Brien said she is paying about $7 per bale, at the high end of the usual price range for what are known as square bales, which weigh about 40 pounds. Cattle and dairy farms often use round bales, which weigh about 1,000 pounds each.

Hay is an important crop in New Hampshire. In Merrimack County, for example, the national Census of Agriculture in 2012 found that hay and related forage crops were by far the largest use of farmland. It was grown on 9,000-plus acres, more than three times as much area as was reported for corn, the next-most popular crop.

Porter said that things weren’t entirely bad for New Hampshire hayfields, especially up north.

“The northern people are having almost a perfect season. They tend to have a hard time getting in crops because they get so much rain, but not this year,” he said.

And while our drought is bad, it’s not historic.

“I’ve seen worse than this. A few years ago we had something similar . . . and way back in the ’50s there was a very severe drought,” he said.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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