Harvest management is an integral component of producing high-quality forage. Often harvest timing and speed are discussed but equally important is the cutting height. While many grazing farmers have adopted the practice of leaving more un-grazed material in the pasture, many hay fields are still harvested as low as possible. This, in combination with frequent harvesting, can stress stands causing loss in density, which can lead to declines in productivity, quality, and allow for weeds to proliferate. Furthermore, with more erratic rainfall patterns often leading to long periods of drought during the summer months, cutting at a higher height can help the plants recover faster and keep the ground cooler during these conditions following harvest. Understandably, farmers are harvesting low to harvest as much dry matter per acre as possible. But at what cost? Is the additional dry matter worth it?
In 2022, the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program initiated a trial evaluating the impacts of varying cutting heights on forage yield and quality, as well as regrowth rates to better understand this trade-off. Check out results from year 1 of the study, Influence of Cutting Height on Forage Quality and Productivity, linked here.