Seed farmers try to beat the rain

By Alex Paul, Albany Democrat-Herald

This week, despite nearly daily rainfall and a forecast of more to come, swathers began chewing up grass seed fields.

“When the grass is ripe, you need to get it cut,” said Albany area farmer Glenn Miller. “The rain just makes the work a little harder.”

Miller said under normal weather conditions, it takes from 10 days to two weeks before the swathed grass is dry enough to be run through a combine.

“When it’s wet like this, it will be several days after it stops raining before we can combine,” Miller said.

Early season dry weather has brought the crop to the cutting stage a couple weeks earlier than usual, Miller said.

“The moisture can steam up through the swaths and cause some seed to sprout and that’s not good,” Miller said. “It really just depends on how long this weather lasts. We’ll have to wait and see how the yields turn out.”

Miller, 60, starting farming in 1972 and puts in about 2000 acres of Gulf variety annual ryegrass.

He said it will take about eight days to swath his fields.

According to the Hyslop weather station between Albany and Corvallis, rainfall in the mid-valley is still 10 inches behind normal – 11.16 inches compared to 21.77 inches.

Rainfall for the first three weeks of June is just 0.62 of an inch.

“It’s not uncommon to get rain this time of year,” said OSU Extension specialist Paul Marquardt. “But, due to the warmer weather in April and May, harvest is getting pushed up. Usually swathing might start in early July and things are usually dryer by then.”

Marquardt said rain actually affects the crop once it’s on the ground, not when it’s being swathed.

“You can get seed sprout that grows up through the swath and that can make it much more difficult to combine,” Marquardt said. “And, seed quality can decline.”

Marquardt added that the longer the swathed grasses are on the ground, the greater the chance there will be issues with pests such as voles or disease, such as fungus.

“It’s really not a good thing if the rain hangs around,” Marquardt said.

According to Oregon State University, Oregon is the world’s largest producer of cool-season forage and turf grass, with annual sales of more than $228 million.

Grass seed is produced on nearly 1,500 grass seed farms in Oregon.

There are more than 300 seed conditioning plants in Willamette Valley.

Published 6/22/13 in the Albany Democrat-Herald