GREAT FALLS — Bales of hay are like gold for farmers and ranchers this summer because hay is in such short supply. For farmers and ranchers who don't have enough hay or can't find hay locally, one option is to have hay shipped in.
But that comes with a risk - the potential to spread noxious weeds or other invasive species, which is why the Montana Department of Agriculture offers guidance for farmers and ranchers.
"We're really in a state this year,” Montana State Weed Coordinator Jasmine Reimer said. She explained that the shortage of hay and the numerous wildfires in 2021 make Montana very susceptible to the spread of noxious weeds.
"We're just trying to help producers and anybody that's affected by the severe drought and wildfires. If you need help with monitoring, if you need help with educational resources, things like that, just let us know,” Reimer said.
If you're shipping in hay, do your research before you have it shipped so you know what could potentially be in it and inspect it when it arrives.
“Parts that have seeds or seed heads on them and you're not sure what it is, you can always take that out and get it identified by your local weed district or your county extension agent. We have a lab, too, at MSU,” Reimer explained.
The same goes for bugs you find in the hay.
Even if the hay seems to pass inspection though, you still need to keep an eye on it: "The best practice is to feed your hay in one local area that is easily accessible that you can go back to and monitor for the next few years. Seeds may not come up this fall, they may not come up next spring. It may be a couple years before you see some seeds that shouldn't be there,” said Reimer.
Cascade County Ag & Natural Resources Extension Agent Rose Malisani said there is another option to keep livestock fed if there isn't enough hay.
"A lot of guys who don't make grain are actually taking it and making it into livestock forages,” said Malisani.
But there's a catch.
"You can actually have your crops tested for nitrates because nitrates have the potential for killing or aborting fetuses, but also killing livestock who are pregnant. You can reach out to your local extension office and they can test those forages,” said Malisani.
As of Wednesday, her family hadn’t had to ship in hay but she said that doesn't necessarily make being in the Ag industry any less stressful.