By Bruce Anderson, Agronomist University of Nebraska
Bales and stacks of hay left in the middle of fields have to be removed sometime. After the final cutting for the year, it may not matter too much if they set there for a while. But when more harvests are expected off that field, delaying removal can be harmful.
One problem is directly under the bale or stack. Plants underneath often are killed if covered for more than a week or two. This may not hurt yield too much, but makes for a great place for weeds to get started. And you know how they can spread.
Most of the damage, though, is due to wheel traffic on the regrowth. Studies have shown that when fields are dry, plants driven on before regrowth occurs yield about 5 to 7% less at next cutting. It gets much worse if you wait to remove bales. Just seven days after cutting, when regrowth shoots had started to grow, yield was reduced over 25 % and fewer of these plants survived. And worse yet is removing bales when fields are wet. Then wheel traffic causes much more compaction. When this happens, yield loss typically exceeds 30%.
These studies emphasize the benefits of baling and removing bales from hay fields as quickly as possible after cutting as well as minimizing driving on wet soils. They also suggest that following the same trail when removing bales or stacks from fields can reduce losses from wheel tracks by limiting the total area damaged. Hay fields must be driven on, of course, to remove bales after harvest. But you can lessen damage by controlling where, when and how often you drive.