Farmers are reminded to make sure their hay is adequately dry before putting it into the barn for storage, as wet hay increases the risk of a fire. Purdue Extension forage specialist Keith Johnson says the moisture content of hay for storage should be no higher than 20 percent. That’s because heat-tolerant microorganisms can develop in hay bales and raise their temperature. If it gets higher than 150 degrees, farmers should take apart the bales or stacks and let air circulate. Johnson says fire becomes very likely if the temperature hits 200 degrees. He adds this year’s wet conditions make the risk of fire even greater.
Farmers can speed up drying by laying cut forage in a wide swath with a mower-conditioner. It’s more exposed to sunlight and dries faster, and the conditioner crimps the stems of newly cut wheat and lets moisture evaporate more quickly. Johnson says they can also let the cut forage wilt to 50 percent moisture content and allow it to ferment to silage. This is done using an individual bale wrapper or an inline tuber that exudes air by wrapping the bales in white plastic.
Johnson urges growers to monitor the temperature of their stored hay and notify their local fire department of any potentially dangerous heat buildup.