CENTRAL TEXAS — It's not just food crops that experienced a setback this year thanks to Mother Nature. Hay farmers have been battling the weather in their own way.
Earlier this week I spoke with 3 Texans Winery and Vineyard about how the deep freeze in February hit them hard. The hay business wasn't too harmed from that event, but it was the buckets of rain that followed that really set Hungate Farm back.
"What really hurt us is when we got all this rain, we couldn't get in there and cut it when it needed to be cut, because we had another rain coming in right behind it," said Hungate Farm operator Kayce Hungate.
Hungate Farm specializes in coastal bermuda hay. That is their preferred variety because of its drying time and its 28-day growth window. They're now playing catch-up, and will have to do so through the rest of the growing season. Compounding the issue is the location of the farm. Being next to the Brazos river is great for pumping in water for irrigation. But when it floods, the fields that sit in the floodplain become a mess.
"When the Brazos got up, it completely covered our entire hay field in water for upwards of three weeks," said Hungate. "And we lost a complete cutting off of that."
The unusually wet weather has continued into this month. Frequent rain has left a lot of standing water in parts of the farm, which has brought about a different kind of irritant. The creepy-crawly kind.
"Army worms are showing up in droves. We've been fighting those for the past few weeks, and if you don't stay on top of spraying those, they'll eat your entire field before you can do anything about it," said Hungate.
Hungate Farm's customers are typically those that need hay when the grass in their grazing fields has run out. With all the excess rain, the grass for horses keeps on growing, so demand for hay has been less.
"Since everybody's had so much rain, our business has actually slowed down quite a bit right now," explained Hungate.
February is too cold to begin growing hay, so the cold blast didn't affect the crop. However, Hungate Farm oversees 500 head of sheep, and that was an entirely different challenge during the winter storm.
Not only did the farm have to keep them warm, but they had to locate fresh water after their well went offline. Mother Nature hasn't given Hungate much of a break this year, but through it all, he and the rest of the farm have maintained a positive attitude. They hope to soon get back to their usual production standards.