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July and August rains refresh pastures; October rain needed

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By PETER SAWYER

 July and August have brought much needed rain. This allowed farmers to have a final cutting of hay.

Two months ago, drought had Tennessee farmers on the ropes. The United States Department of Agriculture had listed East Tennessee as being in a moderately severe drought.

One of the biggest commodities in Campbell County is beef cattle, said Steve Edwards, director of the UT Extension Office. And the lack of rainfall had about 80 percent of the pastures and hayfields in poor condition. Some local farmers were beginning to feed their cows hay. Hay is stored to feed cattle during the winter. During good years, when there is enough grass, farmers won’t feed cows hay until November or December.

“A few folks put out hay during that dry spell,” Edwards said.

Local farmer Rick Hunley had to begin feeding from his hay storage at four of the six locations.

Feeding hay during the summer can cause a shortage in the winter, which can cause hay prices to increase during the winter. When this happens, farmers sometimes have to sell their cows because they can’t afford to feed them.

Edwards had also feared the dryness might hinder the final cutting of hay.

“We were wondering if we were going to get that last one,” Edwards said.

But rain came in July and August.

“Turned wet there and rained for three weeks, which we really needed,” Edwards said.

Now that Campbell County has gotten rain, it is no longer in a drought, Edwards said. There is actually a small surplus of moisture.

“We’re not completely out of the woods,” Edwards said.

October is historically the driest month of the year, Edwards said.

“We may lose that surplus if we don’t continue to get some rain,” Edwards said.

If Campbell County continues to get rain, farmers shouldn’t have to put out hay until November. 

Farmers can use special fertilizers on their pastures or hayfields to allow grass to grow during the fall, as long as there’s moisture, Edwards said. This will help delay feeding stockpiles of hay until Christmas.

“Right now, things aren’t looking too bad,” Edwards said. “Grass has come back. Most people I know have got in another cutting of hay.”