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Farm and Forest Hay and Forage Crops

Ozark County's Agriculture: Change, and Growth 

by Vance Hambleton, Ozark County Extension Agent 

The crops commonly grown in Missouri are low-yielding in Ozark County's droughty, rocky soils. These crops have been replaced by forages which are productive and take advantage of Ozark County's terrain. 

Until fescue was introduced as a productive perennial forage, livestock numbers didn't make great headway. Between 1960 and 1975 all cattle numbers increased at the highest rate since 1850. These, as well as the yields per acre in hay production, indicate that significant changes had occurred in forage production. Those major changes were the use of perennial forages such as fescue, orchardgrass, red clover, alfalfa, and ladino clover and increased use of commercial fertilizer on more total acres. Fescue became the mainstay of Ozark County agriculture. 

During the late 1970s and 1980s fescue seed harvest became another important part of fescue production, although livestock production still represented over ninety-five percent of fescue's economic returns. Large round bales have been introduced into today's hay system. During the 1980s problems associated with livestock feeding on fescue were identified by university researchers as being caused by a fungus inside the fescue plant. University of Missouri extension agents are trying to help producers contend with the fescue fungus problems. 

Agricultural production practices, methods, and products have changed dramatically [over time]. Early production was for family food. Labor was intensive and tools were simple. By the 1990s production per farmer was much greater with less manual labor. Equipment was much more elaborate. As an example, a farmer could pull into a 20-acre hayfield on his air-conditioned tractor with his disc bine and have the hay mowed and curing within four to five hours. The next day a double-side delivery rake could have the hay raked in windrows for baling in four hours with baling completed in four to six hours using a 1,000-2,000 round bale baler. This thirty to forty tons of hay would have taken days or weeks for a large family to harvest in the mid-1800s on two times the land. 

Source: A History of Ozark County, 1841-1991. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, the Ozark County Genealogical and Historical Society. Photo by Peter Callaway.