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Rain relief brings good news for forage crops

The initial dour outlook for forage is looking brighter now that the dry spell has broken

Forage growers are seeing a glimmer of hope for the first time this season, with stands jumping from the recent rains.

Some areas broke 10 millimetres of cumulated monthly rainfall for the first time in the last week of May. Brandon counted just over 55 millimetres through May and June as of June 3, while Melita saw a much-needed 38 millimetres in the same period. Altona’s new rainfall sat at similar levels to Melita as of June 3 while, in the northwest, Roblin was inundated with over 146 millimetres since mid-May.

Pam Iwanchysko, livestock specialist in Dauphin, says the field she has been monitoring for the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association Green Gold Program has shot up since rain began to fall.

The stand stood only five inches high as of mid-May, but has since jumped to 23 inches by the start of June.

“We’ve had significant growth over the weekend and over this past week,” she said in the last week of May.

Iwanchysko now anticipates that fields that got moisture in her area are on track for their first cut.

The reports are a stark change from a few weeks ago, when almost nonexistent rainfall had both producers and provincial experts raising the alarm on a potential feed shortage, should the dry spell stretch on.

“It’s looking really good,” Brian Hupalo of Dauphin’s Hupalo Hay Farms said. “Like everybody else, I had a slow start, but things have really improved. A couple of weeks ago it was a totally different ball game. A couple of weeks ago it looked like things would be looking really short and the hay crop would be definitely less.”

His stands quickly caught up after rains in the late May, he said, and he also anticipates taking his first cut on time.

Glenn Friesen, provincial forage specialist, says Manitoba Agriculture is “cautiously optimistic” after the spate of rain.

Forages across the province jumped following the sudden moisture, although Friesen cautions that the province is still waiting to see what kind of growth will come of the change in weather.

“Most of the growth for Manitoba forages is in the first half of the summer,” he said. “We get 75 per cent of our growth in that window, so the spring rains are very important and generally, when they come, often you see forages grow extra quick — a bit of compensation for the lagging growth in the early part of the spring, so these rains are good to get things really jumping.”

Initial winterkill fears have also been at least somewhat eased.

Iwanchysko says some fields she initially pegged as winterkilled are now showing growth.

“There’s been improvement, overall, from what I can see,” she said. “A lot of the forages that we thought were winterkilled, there’s actually some recovery now that we have some moisture and heat. It was just that slow, which is not typical of some of those forages, but we have seen a little bit of improvement.”

The forage industry has been pleasantly surprised after concerns that the cold winter and lack of snow cover might spell bad news for forage, concerns that were only fueled when hay lands were slow to regrow this spring.

“So far we’re not as concerned,” Friesen said. “I think we were. It was a colder winter. We knew there was limited snow cover in lots of areas. However, we’re not seeing widespread concerns with winterkill. There are spots of it out there, but at this point, I think we dodged a bullet.”

For growers in the southeast, it’s a welcome change from last year, when the region was plagued by winterkill cases.

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association’s first Green Gold report May 24 noted only slight frost damage in the fields they were monitoring in eastern Manitoba and the Interlake and little new winterkill.

“This could be due to the selection process but it also looks like most of the fields had considerable stubble left that may have trapped snow providing some insulation to the colder weather or the stands were younger and therefore tend to be able to withstand lower temperatures,” the association noted.

The recovering forage is good news for the beef industry, which has already faced down an extended feeding period this year.

Producers in dry areas were already forced to bring cattle off pasture early last fall, after growth dried up, while the cold start to spring and poor regrowth also kept cattle in the yard and had some producers scrambling for extra hay.

Friesen warned that this spring may yet spell challenges for pasture growth, even with the current moisture boost.

“Because of the slow growth on pastures, people have been keeping cattle home a little bit longer and feeding at home.

Those that don’t have hay at home or feed at home had to put them out earlier in the year, so that could present a challenge later in the fall or summer when the summer slump hits,” he said.

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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