WATERTOWN (AP) - With dry weather expected to reduce fall harvest yields for corn and hay, some upstate New York dairy farmers could be forced to buy more feed or downsize their herds.
Healthy rainfall in August helped crops, but the fall harvest is markedly down, Cape Vincent dairy farmer Lyle Wood told The Watertown Daily Times. Wood said that if he hadn't planted more acreage of corn and hay this season, he would have been compelled to sell more cattle than usual.
"We're getting 18 tons to the acre when we normally get about 22," said Scott Bourcy, who co-owns the northern New York farm with Wood. "To get more feed we're also going to cut a 400-acre hay field that we would have normally cut in the spring."
Farmers throughout Jefferson County in northern New York are making plans to sell more of their cull cattle - those with defects or who produce low amounts of milk - said Arthur Baderman of Jefferson County's Cornell Cooperative Extension office. He said farmers should make realistic expectations about how much forage they expect to harvest and should start selling more cattle if their herds are too large.
"If you can't feed them, then you better get rid of the poor-producing cows now instead of waiting for the winter," Baderman told the newspaper, "because the cattle will be eating forages you can't replace. Having the forage available for the rest of the herd is more important."
Baderman said keeping cattle too long could be costly for farmers because if they aren't eating enough feed in the fall and winter, they'll lose weight and sell for a lower price per pound at slaughterhouses.
"Some farmers have the mentality that they're going to get as much milk as they can out of their cattle, but economics say you should sell when they're still in good body condition," Baderman said.
Along with trimming their herds, many farmers with forage deficits will need to buy corn silage and hay at today's high prices. Baderman said that at least 70 percent of the farmers he's spoken with in the past two weeks have told him that they probably won't harvest enough forage to feed their cattle.
Some farmers with low annual cash flow are reluctant to pay high prices for cattle feed right now, said dairy farmer Michael B. Kiechle, president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau. But he told the newspaper that if farmers wait, prices could be much higher in the winter.
"You have to pay cash when the feed arrives, and most farmers don't have the cash or credit line for that," he said.