This spring, many agricultural regions across Canada have faced a Goldilocks scenario with rain — most have received either too much or too little, with very few getting it just right. For many beef producers and feedlot operators, that will mean finding alternative feed supplies.
Brad Welter, president of Pound-Maker Ag Ventures, is all too aware of how dry conditions drive up forage prices. Speaking to reporters beside the feedlot’s dwindling silage supply, Welter explained they were stretching their feed supply with oats, straw and grass pellets from Manitoba (see photo at top).
Dry weather in key production regions also means producers are stockpiling feed grains, bumping feed prices higher, Marlo Glass reports in the Feed Weekly Outlook.
Still, some areas are faring better than others so far. Each week we’ll be compiling the latest crop reports from the Prairie provinces and Ontario, giving readers an overview on the pasture and feed situation.
The middle of the province saw 15 mm or more of rain the week ending June 11, reports Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s latest crop report. The north-east and western parts of central Alberta saw 35 mm or more of rain. Surface soil moisture improved in the central, north-east and north-west regions, but deteriorated in the south.
Provincially, a quarter of Alberta’s pasture is rated as poor and another 32 per cent is rated fare. So far, 15 per cent of Alberta’s hay is rated poor, 36 per cent fair and 46 per cent good.
In the north-east, less than a quarter of the hay crop is rated as good/excellent, and just over a third of the pasture is rated good/excellent. In the north-west, just over half of the pasture and hay is rated good/excellent.
In the south and central regions, over 40 per cent of pasture is rated good/excellent, and 55 per cent or more of hay rates good/excellent. In central regions, grasses are heading out. Counties in the west are doing better than those in the east.
Producers in the Peace have been dealing with cool weather and wildfire smoke. In that region, 43 per cent of pasture is rated good/excellent, as is 47 per cent of hay.
Terry Kowalchuk, forage crop specialist for Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Agriculture, wrote via email that topsoil moisture is insufficient in most areas, with the exception of the Cypress Hills, southeast and northern regions.
“No significant precipitation was reported for the last two weeks with the exception of Weyburn region,” Kowalchuk says. “Some areas in the region received an inch in the last week although this is highly variable.”
Pastures and hay have had little to no growth in most regions of the province, Kowalchuk adds. Some producers are grazing hay land, raising concerns about feed supplies.
Some areas are experiencing the third consecutive year of below-average precipitation, Kowalchuk says. Those dry years, combined with a cold winter and cool spring, have depleted feed supplies in many areas. Poor hay yields have left many producers looking to alternative feed sources, such as annual crops, to replenish winter feed stocks.
“Ditch hay was sparse this spring and will be a poor supplemental source in most areas,” Kowalchuk says.
Seeding is nearly complete, but some green feed and silage may still go in, Kowalchuk adds. “Crop growth is generally patchy and plants are weak. Irrigated crops look slightly better.”
Feed supplies are tight, Manitoba Agriculture’s crop report from June 11 notes. Cattle have moved to pasture in most areas, but frost, dry weather and early grazing have hampered forage growth.
In the central region, producers have started haying dairy-quality alfalfa. The first cut is very good quality, with below-normal yields. Forages need rain and hay has started to head out. Native hay and pasture have been slow to recover from winter injury.
In the south-west, forages need moisture and some producers are considering topping up pasture dugouts. Day and night temperatures have ranged from normal to just above freezing, which has also slowed forage growth.
Some areas in the north-west are seeing soil moisture shortages, particularly around Roblin. Frost has hampered hay growth.
In the east, 60 per cent of hay and pasture acres are rated short or very short for soil moisture conditions. Half of hayfields are rated fair, with the other half as poor or very poor. Pasture conditions are no better, with 40 per cent rated fair, and the other 60 per cent poor or very poor.
In the Interlake, most greenfeed has been seeded, and acres are reported to be up. Hay and pasture concerns have pushed producers to seed millet. Some fescue and timothy acres have been written off. Frost has stunted alfalfa and cold, dry conditions have slowed pasture regrowth. Overgrazing last year is compounding issues this year. Alfalfa and grass stands are thin. First cut yields will be below normal.
The first cut is underway in southwest, central and eastern Ontario, the latest Ontario Field Crop Report notes. Alfalfa development is three weeks behind normal. So far, yields look to be average to below average. Farmers planted more silage crops areas in areas with significant winterkill. Sorghum-sudangrass acres are up from 2018.
Sun and warm temperatures in early June sped seeding progress. Many farmers opted to plant corn, despite the late calendar date, due to more competitive returns compared to soybeans. Corn planting is reported to be reaching 90 to 95 per cent of intended acres in many areas. Farmers in areas with heavy textured soils had either just started planting corn or been unable to start any field work, as of June 10. However, with more rain in the forecast, farmers unable to plant corn last week will likely have switched to soybeans.
Despite less than ideal seeding conditions, agronomists report good emergence and crop stands with corn, with the exception of places with erosion or soil deposition. Tilled fields are suffering from erosion this spring.
Crop staging in corn ranges widely, based on planting windows, even within local areas. Some crops had just been seeded, while others had already reached the six-leaf stage or beyond.
Do you have a current photo illustrating the pasture or feed situation in your area that you’d like to share? Send it to [email protected] (subject line: Feed Watch) or tweet it to @LtoG. Be sure to share your name, location and some information about the situation in your region.