Outstanding In Their Field

Outstanding in their field Stng Head-WEB

How many memories do you have of your childhood? I have a couple for this article.

When I grew up on our farm outside of Joliet, just west of Rockdale, was about 15 years after livestock had left the farm. The old pastures, no longer occupied by grazing cattle, had overgrown with wild black raspberries. I spent many hours evading deer flies and mosquitos, well, usually unsuccessfully evading them, while picking the delicious berries. If our wild harvest was bountiful, my mom would can some berries to use for delicious dessert toppings later in the winter.

Recently while baling hay, I spied a patch of black raspberries in the fence line. I could not resist taking a break and eating my fair share of the delicious treat. The bountiful rains this spring have not only produced a large hay crop; the wild berries and mulberry trees are loaded with a bumper crop of juicy goodness.

I also remember from my youth several examples of spontaneous combustion. A tenant at one of the farms we worked would always pile grass clipping where the yard bordered the field. I remember many occasions seeing that wet, green pile of grass smoking. There was also a time my dad’s mower was broken and the lawn looked like a hay field by the time it was finally cut again. We raked the clumps of grass after that first mowing and made our own pile of clippings.

I am a firm believer in the power of witnessing a scientific experiment versus reading about it. Putting my hand into the hot and steaming pile of green and wet grass clippings made me a believer that despite a material being wet close to the point of saturation, it could somehow get hot enough to catch on fire. This incident was probably my first foray into the art of composting.

Are you curious as to how memories of grass clippings fit into an article about farming? At an early age, I would hear stories about hay possibly causing fires. Since I have been educating myself in the finer points of making hay bales for most of my life, I have fielded many questions about spontaneous combustion of hay during storage. I will state this: You would have to be a fool, let me rephrase, it would be a very poor decision in most cases to make hay so wet that it would start a fire. Yet it does still happen sometimes.

Given that this spring has been very wet, it can cause frustration for hay producers; sometimes bad judgement will creep into a farmer’s decision making when they are trying to get a crop baled during limited dry spells. Another dilemma that can increase the risk of hay being baled too wet for safe storage is the bale or package size. Many farmers have transitioned to large round or square bales. Not only are those bales usually packed tighter than small square bales, but their size is also so much bigger that the natural process of curing/drying is greatly reduced.

It is my opinion that there is a shortage of seasoned/veteran hay farmers in our area. That has made many people invest in some equipment and become hobby and first-time hay producers. If you are one of them, I suggest you google “hay temperature for combustion.” There are multiple websites from agricultural universities and industry experts on the correct moisture levels for safe storage of hay. There is no shortage of sites that show hay will probably mold over 125 degrees, be at serious risk of fire over 175 degrees and most certainly will ignite at temperatures over 200 degrees. Do not let your haystacks become a compost pile, or worse!

There are also reports of humans spontaneously combusting. This is a phenomenon I will have to witness by myself to believe to be true.


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