While laymen may look at a farm field dotted with round bales and think that those bales are all the same, forage farmers and livestock producers know the truth. Hay quality varies widely from producer to producer and from year to year.Each fall, the Southeastern Hay Contest gives forage and baleage producers across the Southeast the chance to show off the quality of their hay.This year’s contest features cash prizes for the winners of all seven categories, as well as free use of Massey Ferguson-brand hay equipment for the production season. The deadline for this year’s competition is Sept. 21. Winners will be recognized as part of the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo in Moultrie, Georgia, Oct. 17-19.For more than a decade, the Southeastern Hay Contest has been spotlighting quality hay and baleage production in the region. The Cooperative Extension programs in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have organized the contest since its inception.“We hope every quality hay producer from Texas to Virginia will enter for a chance to win,” said Dennis Hancock, UGA Cooperative Extension forage specialist. “Our goal is to demonstrate the potential to produce quality hay and baleage in the Southeast. Just as important, we want to highlight the technology that makes it all possible.”Forage growers in the Southeast have increased the quality of their forage as they’ve recognized a need for efficiency due to high input costs.“The key to success has always been timely management,” said Hancock. Good management has been made more efficient through the use of improved forage varieties, advanced harvest equipment and other technologies that have come to the market during the last decade, he said. “It is hard to recall a more exciting time in the hay and forage industry.”The contest’s title sponsor will provide the use of a new Massey Ferguson RK Series rotary rake for the 2017 hay production season and $1,000 cash as the grand prize for this year’s contest.Cash prizes will be provided to first-, second- and third-place winners in each of the seven categories:Warm-season perennial grass hay (sponsored by R.W. Griffin Industries)Alfalfa hay (sponsored by America’s Alfalfa)Perennial peanut hay (sponsored by the Perennial Peanut Producers Association)Cool-season perennial grass hay (sponsored by Inland Tarp and Liner)Mixed annual or other hay (sponsored by Athens Seed Company)Grass baleage (sponsored by Georgia Twine)Legume baleage (sponsored by Southeast AgriSeeds)The deadline for entry into the Southeastern Hay Contest is 5 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 21. Visit sehaycontest.com for registration information and rules.Follow the Southeastern Hay Contest on Twitter (@SEHayContest) and Facebook (facebook.com/SEHayContest) for periodic articles, updates and timely information on producing quality hay and baleage. Visit sunbeltexpo.com for more information about the event at the Sunbelt Agricultural Expo.