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Manitoba counts the cost of dry conditions on hay harvest

Hayfields and pastures have welcomed early-August rains, but some regions are still in need of moisture, including central Manitoba

This year’s hay harvest won’t match last year’s bumper crop, but there should still be enough to go around, an official with the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association says.

“Last year, the hay yields were phenomenal. Every field did well,” chair Dave Koslowsky said. “This year, it’s a little bit more hit and miss but, for the most part, there’s still lots of hay.”

Below-average precipitation has become the norm for most of agricultural Manitoba this year, with only a ribbon of land to the north and some southern patches approaching growing season averages, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The dry conditions shrivelled some first-cut yields and regrowth has been slow.

But concern was allayed somewhat after the province’s dry spell broke in some regions early this month.

Southwest Manitoba saw between 15 and 40 millimetres of rain in the first week of August, although Manitoba Agriculture warned that the second hay cut may be limited if more moisture does not fall.

“In our area, I know we’ve had about three inches now in the last three weeks, basically,” Koslowsky, who farms near Killarney, said. “Pasture has definitely improved.”

Producers with fewer cows per pasture have reported good conditions, he said, although farmers who already risked overgrazing are “going to be feeding in the very near future.”

“The cows are eating the good grass,” he said. “Some of the tougher grasses that they don’t like to eat, they’re not even touching them yet.”

Still dry in central Manitoba

Central Manitoba has been among the driest regions this year, with areas along the U.S.-Canada border south of Winnipeg ranging from 100 to 150 millimetres less rain than normal, according to weather data from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Second cut in the west and southwest areas was described as “non-existent due to limited rainfall and poor regrowth,” in the Aug. 8 crop report, although the same report noted there was excellent regrowth in areas with adequate moisture.

“So far, the weather this year has been a lot more co-operative,” Mark Georges, who farms in the Miami area, said. “Quality has been good.”

Pastures are beginning to show the strain in some areas, the province also warned.

“Pastures are dry and turning brown,” the Aug. 8 report read. “Rain (is) needed to sustain pastures and livestock into the fall; supplemental feeding may be required earlier this year.”

Looking east

In eastern Manitoba, which reported most of the province’s forage winterkill concerns this spring, 80 per cent of fields and 60 per cent of pastures were in reportedly good condition, although 20 per cent of pastures were rated poor. Rainfall ranged from two to 40 millimetres in the first week of August.

First-cut yields averaged 1.5 tonnes per acres, with wild hay yielding one tonne per acre, tame hay reaching 1.75 tonnes per acre and two-tonne-per-acre yields observed in grass/alfalfa mix, according to Manitoba Agriculture.

Second cut is expected to also reach 1.5 tonnes per acre with 1.25-tonne-per-acre yields in grass/alfalfa.

More moisture to the north

Northwest Manitoba bucked the trend seen in most of the province, with above-average yields reported in the first cut of native hay and some farms reporting challenges with excess moisture.

The regions west of Lake Manitoba and into the Interlake are some of the few to rate between 85 to 115 per cent of average precipitation since April 1, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Alfalfa regrowth has been likewise promising in the Interlake with pastures in good to fair condition.

Thirsty patches have still been noted near Roblin and parts of Dauphin and the province warns that second-cut yield may fall below average in those drier areas.

“Things are shaping up so far, for the most part,” Koslowsky said. “There’s always exceptions. There’s dry pockets in the province in some areas. I know there’s an area along the border south of Winkler there that’s very dry. They’ve been missing the rains. There’s a pocket here west of us that is quite dry as well. Farther west, you get into the Melita area. They’ve had some rains now, but they’re very dry. There’s other pockets that are quite wet. In the Interlake, I talked to a producer over there the other day and they’re very wet. They don’t want to see another rain.”

Dry weather a boost to hay market?

The unusually dry year may come with a silver lining in the markets, Koslowsky added.

“For the guys who sell hay, their price has gone up and the quality has been fantastic,” Koslowsky said. “We’ve had some very decent haying weather this year.”

While pockets of Manitoba are in moderate drought, the province has yet to see the widespread drought conditions noted in Saskatchewan and parts of the United States this year. Much of southern Saskatchewan is in severe or extreme drought, according to the Canadian Drought Monitor.

In the United States, the U.S. Drought Monitor reports persisting drought conditions in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa and parts of Minnesota and Wyoming, among others.

Hay price has jumped significantly in the drought-stricken northern states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s July prices report.

In North Dakota, “all hay” price jumped from $79 per ton in May 2017 to $123 per ton in June, both up from the $73 per ton paid in June of last year. Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota prices also jumped, rising from $75 to $85 per ton, $128 to $135 per ton and $89 to $116 per ton respectively between June 2016 and June 2017.

Nationally, the average all-hay price this June was higher than the previous year, but had slipped $3 per ton from May 2017.

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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