It’s mid-June and cattle should be grazing contentedly on Stuart Melnychuk’s lush green pasture. But there’s not a cow in sight.
The reason becomes obvious when Melnychuk swings open the gate and walks into the grass. Very soon he’s a foot deep in water.
Heavy rains have flooded hayfields on the farm Melnychuk operates with his dad and uncle. There’s no point turning cows out on this pasture.
He and his family are wondering how to harvest the 3,000 hay bales they’ll need to see their 250 beef cows through the coming winter.
Drive the back roads in the region and it’s a similar story. Pastures are flooded and alfalfa crops are turning yellow in standing water. Cattle are bunched on hillsides because they can’t roam freely. The first hay cut should be starting right now, but for many producers it’s just too wet.
“We do have a little bit of a window but it looks like it’s going to be a challenge to harvest,” said Dean Stoyanowski, a Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives farm production advisor in Arborg.
It’s the third straight year of flooding in the Interlake, the heart of Manitoba’s cow-calf country, and livestock producers are at their wits’ end.
Stoyanowski said it’s premature to talk about feed shortages this year. But pastures are really suffering and there’s not a lot of good quality hay left on farmers’ yards.
While Interlake producers are worst off because of previous flooding, this year they have company.
“We’re going to be a week or so
– GLENN FRIESEN, MAFRI
Over the last two months, much of Manitoba has experienced up to twice the normal precipitation. Widespread rains have flooded cropland and threatened forage crops throughout the province.
The southwest region is somewhat better off because of its lighter soil. But “anybody in the Red River Valley or in the southeast part of the province is going to be suffering,” Stoyanowski said.
Wet conditions could jeopardize the first hay cut without at least a week of sunny weather, said Glenn Friesen, a MAFRI forage specialist.
“If it doesn’t stop raining, there will be an issue getting the first cut off the ground. There’s no question.”
Much of the damage to forages is on low-lying land with poor drainage. Friesen said alfalfa can stand only a week under water before plants die. Some producers east of Winnipeg are cutting hay and feeding it directly to cattle because pastures are too wet to graze.
“We started off the year thinking we would be 10 days ahead of schedule. Now we’re going to be a week or so behind schedule,” said Friesen.
He estimated that, as of last week, only about 25 per cent of the first hay cut was complete. Lots of producers were still waiting to get into their forage fields.
A problem with cutting alfalfa late is that it can affect the second cut. Friesen said producers don’t want the second growth coming through the bottom while the first growth is still there. Cutting late can clip the second shoot and reduce the yield.
Another concern is long-term damage to pastures caused by cattle walking through mud.
“The hoof traffic will damage the pastures, no question. Some worse than others, depending on the slope and things, but it’s going to affect re-growth,” said Friesen
If cattle can’t walk pastures to graze, different plant species such as bullrushes move in and take over, added Stoyanowski.
Bullrushes were a common sight on Melnychuk’s pastures, where previously only grass grew. [email protected]