Growing up, when I heard the expression, “Make hay while the sun shines,” I thought it meant to make the most of an opportunity. I didn’t realize the literal interpretation comes from life experience.

You MUST MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES, and summer is hay season in the Illinois River Watershed. You can see large round bales of hay pop up overnight all around us in pastures, but also in city lots, along rural roads, at the airport, or next to a school or church.

Summer is hay season in the Illinois River Watershed.

Hay is a great example of how we as humans can practice being good stewards of our land and water resources. Hay seems so simple – let the grass grow, mow it down, bale it up! But science has taught us that hay needs the right amount of nutrients to grow and gain in protein content for optimum levels.

When protein levels reach their peak, it’s Hay Season… time to cut, rake, and bale. Time for farmers to make perfect round bales that can be stored and await the time in fall and winter when livestock need the stores of plenty.

Round hay bales stacked in storage.

Robert Seay, retired Benton County Agricultural Extension Agent, coordinated an annual hay contest where producers submitted sample square bales of hay which were tested for protein content, moisture content, smell, etc. The new county agricultural extension agent, Jonny Gunsallis, is starting this month and farmers will continue to have a great advocate and technical resource for their farming operations as they make hay while the sun shines.

I’d like to share 10 lessons for life that I’ve learned from a bale of hay:

  1. Water is essential to life and health.
  2. Good nutrition while growing is essential to realize fullest potential.
  3. One must have patience.
  4. One must believe that rain (good things) will come and must prepare even without a cloud in the sky or on the horizon, or in the forecast.
  5. One must watch for the window of opportunity and get to work when the time is right. (ie. when the rain stops long enough to cut, rake, and bale without getting the hay wet).
  6. One must calculate and make sure there’s enough reserve on hand for those times of need(ie. enough hay to feed the herd all winter)
  7. Don’t spend dollars on excess supplies, labor or equipment or your expenses will exceed your return on investment.
  8. Always be fair. Never take advantage of another during their time of need.
  9. Start the cycle of preparation and hope all over again tomorrow.
  10. Philosopher Seneca summed it up: “Luck is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet.

Why am I talking about hay in the Illinois River Watershed? It’s summer and a new USDA NRCS EQIP program was announced last week with an upcoming deadline of August 15!

The Illinois River Watershed Partnership supports USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Programs (EQIP) for landowners in the Illinois River Watershed. These programs provide cost-share assistance for scientifically-based, voluntary, best management practices that agricultural producers can implement to improve farm production and improve water quality and conservation of natural resources.

Hay bales are starting to show up in both rural and urban areas this summer.

Producers in Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas have until Aug. 15, 2014, to submit applications to receive cost-share assistance to implement conservation practices through the Illinois River Sub-Basin and Eucha-Spavinaw Lake Watershed Initiative. Applicants can sign up at the Benton and Washington county USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field service centers.


Natural Resources Conservation Service

Washington County

Rhonda Foster

Phone: 479-521-4520 ext. 3

Email: Rhonda.Foster@ar.usda.gov


Natural Resources Conservation Service

Benton County

Mike Whitis

Phone: 479-273-2622 ext. 106

Email: Mike.Whitis@ar.usda.gov


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IRWP Conservation Leadership Summit students tour watershed best management practices at a dairy farm in Gentry, AR.

Land treatment and structural practices will be installed on a voluntary basis in the project area using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“This project is being implemented working with our conservation partners to accelerate conservation treatment and expand their capacity to improve water quality and maintain productivity throughout the basin and watershed,” said Mike Sullivan, NRCS State Conservationist. “Our agency is working to increase the use of conservation systems to encourage practices which will greatly benefit water quality in the area.”

The purpose of this continued USDA NRCS project is to improve water quality while maintaining the food and fiber production of the agricultural project area. The following Best Management Practices are available to land owners in the Illinois River Watershed:

Prescribed Grazing: Development of livestock grazing programs that promote rotational grazing with a minimum of 4 pastures per grazing groups, seeding legumes, soil fertility, stock piling for winter feeding, wildlife habitat, and nutrient filter strip management.

Forage and biomass planting: Provides assistance in establishing native warm season grasses, non-native grasses (cool & warm season perennials), and legumes.

Forage Harvest Management: The removal of excess phosphorus by harvesting forages through hay or green chop from pastures/hay fields. Fields that have a phosphorus loading in excess of 500 lbs of phosphate/acre qualify for funding. This is a 3-yr program with funding paid each year.

Water Facility: The construction of alternative watering sources for livestock such as freeze proof tanks and fountains.

Fence: Provides assistance in constructing barbed wire, woven wire, and electric fences. Options are also available for tree planting to establish windbreaks or shelter and livestock walkways for movement between pastures and handling facilities.

Nutrient Management: This program provides Best Management Practice training, Organic Transition & Certification, and cost share assistance to apply fertilizers without phosphorus.


Additional Resources:

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)- Arkansas

NRCS: Illinois River Watershed Initiative Sign-Up

NRCS: Environmental Quality Incentives Program


Related Posts:

Water Proof: Controlling Phosphorus Levels Through Best Management Practices

Water Proof: 2050 Arkansas Water Plan

Water Proof: Water Quality Studies in the Illinois River Watershed