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Concern raised over flagging forage

Manitoba’s dry spell needs to break soon, or it could mean bad news for forage crops in the west. For some winterkilled crops, though, it’s already too late

Forage crops are off to a rough start.

Producers and provincial experts say forages got a double hit this spring, with strained crops failing to survive the winter while those that made it through still struggle with slow growth.

Ken Harms, who produces hay near Snowflake, says subpar stands in his area actually ran into trouble last fall.

“What we’ve seen here already is that anybody who was really aggressive in a third-cutting situation last fall with it being dry, there has been more winterkill than normal, I would say, because those roots have been a little bit more sensitive and unable to take that shock,” he said. “I know a couple of guys who replanted some alfalfa ground this spring because even their relatively newer stands just didn’t survive very well, so they’ll be worked up earlier than normal.”

Pastures and hay lands were already under pressure going into the winter, with reports of farmers forced to take cattle off early, low dugout levels, and poor pastures after one of the driest years in recent memory.

That dry streak has now spread through the winter and into spring. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada lists the overwhelming majority of agricultural Manitoba between 60 and 85 per cent of normal precipitation since September. Some regions dip further to 40 to 60 per cent of normal.

Crops are still gasping for moisture, despite storms in the latter part of May that had many hoped would break the province’s dry spell.

For some areas, such as Swan River and Minnedosa, that hope was answered May 25. Spotty thunderstorms brought downpours to those regions, with Manitoba Agriculture weather stations reading 55.9 mm in Swan River, 30.6 mm in Minnedosa, 40.7 mm in Austin and 20.8 mm in Teulon. In Alexander, however, a mere half-hour away from Minnedosa, soil saw less than half of Minnedosa’s rain and regions around Altona, Russell, Dauphin, Killarney, Carman and southwest Manitoba failed to break double digits, if they saw rain at all.

Both Harms and Pam Iwanchysko, provincial livestock specialist in Dauphin, say a feed shortage is possible this year if rains don’t come soon.

“There is winterkill,” Iwanchysko said. “We didn’t have enough snow cover in certain areas and are seeing quite a few of the legumes that have been frozen out, or whatever, but they certainly haven’t survived the winter conditions.”

What fields did survive are slow, much like pastures in her area, she said, and several inches of rain would be “a moderate amount to get things going.”

Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation has not seen a jump in forage claims this year, although claim services manager David Koroscil says they may come in following weeks.

“There might be winterkill, but they’re still planning on salvaging and getting a cut from what’s there,” he said. “Really, the only time we would see a claim right now is if they intended to work it down and plant it to something else to get a crop this year.”

The insurance agency had a half-dozen active forage claims as of press time.

Koroscil did note significant winter wheat claims with MASC this year.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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