The oaten hay market in Western Australia has developed significantly in recent years, Japan being the major purchaser with Korea,Taiwan, the Pacific and Middle East also procuring from WA.
The Japanese market is increasingly demanding high quality hay, particularly as Australian hay exporters work with Japanese buyers to show them why they should purchase our forage versus material produced in other countries. As a result of this focus the interest in quality from the domestic market has also grown. The quality demand for the domestic market, however, does vary more from year to year depending on the availability of home produced forage and other feeds.
Before growing oats for export hay, talk to your hay processor. Hay processors have different requirements which will affect how you manage your crop. Your processor can advise you about the production of export hay.
Many export hay companies have preferred varieties they will receive whilst others have no preference. Check with you hay processor prior to planting for their list of preferred varieties. Often they will recommend growing an oat variety suited to your region and ensure the cutting time is correct.
Many common grain varieties (such as Carrolup, Wandering and Winjardi) are grown successfully as export hay. The National Oat Breeding Program has released hay varieties (Wintaroo and Brusher) with potential for some regions of Western Australia. Older varieties such as Massif, Swan and Vasse are not widely accepted by hay processors as the stems tend to be too thick.
When to cut hay
The optimum cutting time recommended by most processors is at the watery-ripe stage, Zadok stage 71 (Z71), or earlier. When the top florets are squeezed at this stage, a clear watery liquid appears. Trials have shown that hay quality decreases rapidly from this stage while the yield increases. If the liquid is white, then the optimum stage of cutting has already occurred.
It is important however, to consider delaying cutting if a significant rain event (12mm or more) is forecast. Quality of hay is most at risk when exposed to rain events between cutting and baling, resulting in leaching of colour and nutritive value.
For information on when to cut hay, refer to Oats: hay production.
For a desciption of the Zadoks growth scale, refer to Zadoks growth scale.