AUGUSTA — It’s been a dry summer this year, according to meteorological data collected at the Augusta State Airport. Rainfall for the state is down by an average of about 40 percent, and this means difficult times for farmers harvesting hay — and those relying on them.

Haying is a time-consuming process, but also very rewarding, Caroline Wild, Farming Programs assistant at Wolfe’s Neck Farm, wrote in an informative article called “The Art of Haying in Maine.”

“You can literally see the feed for the next winter going into your barn, which gives you a feeling of security,” she said.

But for most farmers, that feeling of security has been hard to obtain this year. The decreased rainfall means less grass — and less grass means less hay.

The process of haying begins with mowing grass, usually with a tool called a mower conditioner, which sends the cut grass through two rollers, breaking the stems so water can evaporate. The hay is then swirled around, tossed up and aired out, a process called tedding.

Then the hay is raked and finally baled, molding it into either a square or circular shape for easier and more convenient storage. 

With the short summer season in Maine, farmers usually get two cuts or harvests, but can occasionally get three. This summer, however, with the dry conditions, some farmers are getting only one. 

Scot Bruns of Stetson said his first crop yield was “almost doubled,” and many other farmers expressed the same success with their first crops, due to an early and wet spring. For most farmers, the first cut was done in early to mid-June, and that’s when the drought set in, which will mean no second cut for some.

Jessica Creighton of Freer Prospects Farm in Prospect said she will have no second crop this year. Arlene Duricko-Mciver of Bowdoin said the second crop will not be worth the time or expense to cut. 

That seemed to be the general consensus around the state — that the first crop was better than usual, but the second cut either will not happen or will yield less than 50 percent of a normal second cut. This means higher prices and increased demand.

A representative from Destiny Hill Farm in Oxford said they have been haying since 2004, and this is the worst year they’ve had. 

“Normally, we get two cuttings totaling about 7,000 to 8,000 bales,” the representative said. “This year, we will have only about 5,000 bales due solely to the lack of rain. Consequently, prices are higher now and will continue to be high for the winter. The bigger problem is that we are already sold out with no stock for the winter.”

There was one exception, however. Bill Haynes in Waterford said this is the best year he’s ever had.

Haynes is currently five fields into his second cut and said some even look like they may yield a third. His success may be due to the “aggressive enhancement program” he began four years ago.

“Thanks to adding 150 tons (of fertilizer) per year, I now have fields that are their proper pH and blend of nutrients and trace minerals,” Haynes said.

Haynes said that while his fellow farmers to the south and west are stuggling with brown fields and “diminished opportunities for a second cut,” his fields are lush, green and continue to grow.

“Naturally, they would fare better with more rainfall, but my volume is ahead of last year,” Haynes said. “Because of the dry June and July, I finished the 110 acres I cut in record time and started right in on (the) second crop. (Because) it was cut early, it’s some of the best hay I’ve ever made.”

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