The province got some of its first forage-friendly growing days in the last week of May, but it still may not be enough.
This spring was another hard start for hay growers. Cold temperatures and lack of rainfall delayed alfalfa and pasture regrowth, leading the province’s forage experts to put out warnings against premature turnout.
Why it matters: Producers couldn’t help but worry when this spring threatened to turn into another stunted first cut, but heat and (in some places) rain, have helped get things a little closer to normal.
Last year, cool temperatures with little rain in April and May also delayed turnout and foreshadowed last year’s feed shortfalls. Weather did little to improve as the season passed. Dry weather left first cuts woefully slim, eliminated a second cut in some areas, and led to worry over cattle culls and forage shortages over the winter.
Recent rainfall and heat has sparked some hope for the forage harvest this year, although forage experts warn the province is still dry.
A system of storms dropped around an inch of rain along the Assiniboine River and directly south May 25-27, while thunderstorms brought some rain to the northwest June 2. Manitoba Agriculture meteorologists later noted less rainfall than they hoped in the southwest at the end of May, while areas north of the Trans-Canada Highway saw little rain from that line of storms.
Added heat, however, also had forage fields shooting up, according to John McGregor, co-ordinator of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association’s Green Gold forage monitoring program. Temperatures finally jumped near or above 30 C several days in the week following the May rains.
McGregor reported that alfalfa jumped two inches over the last weekend of May in eastern Manitoba. Stands across the province were also growing about an inch a day after May 27, he reported.
“With that heat and the little bit of rain that we did get, it does look very, very promising,” he said.
Crops likewise avoided frost damage May 27. McGregor only noted damage on some plant tips.
Stands were about 17 inches tall in both the east and central Manitoba as of May 30, the Green Gold program said. Relative feed value (RFV) still sat at 231 RFV in the east, well above the 170 RFV the program recommends for cutting, although quality in central Manitoba had already slipped to an average 196 RFV.
West still dry
The news is less positive in still rain-starved regions of the southwest, according to provincial farm production adviser Lionel Kaskiw.
Pastures and hay lands were still “critically dry,” he reported, during a Crop Talk webinar May 29.
“I think one of the biggest things right now, for most of the western side of the province anyways, is the lack of rainfall,” he said. “Hayfields and pastures are starting to really show the effects and guys are starting to turn cattle out, which will definitely bring those pastures down.”
Kaskiw noted that both frost and grazing are slowing regrowth, and Manitoba Agriculture notes that much of the southwest still has less than half of average precipitation, despite the rains.
While there was closer to average growth in the east and central Manitoba, McGregor noted that western fields still had a wide gap to catch up to normal. Stand height had yet to clear a foot in the west, according to the May 30 Green Gold report, although RFV still sat at 255.
“A crop like alfalfa, it has a fairly deep-rooted system so that it can take some of that moisture that’s farther down, but definitely, we need a lot more rain to keep that alfalfa growing, as well as the grasses,” McGregor said.