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Eyes on winterkill as producers assess forage stands

Some forage fields are lagging, a number of producers in the east and 
central Manitoba have said, but the final toll is still up in the air

It appears forage producers in eastern Manitoba are suffering the same weather-related winterkill that hit winter wheat in the region.

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) says it has got reports of damage in the southeast corner of the province, while producers in the western Pembina Valley have also noted poor regrowth.

“Part of that has to do with the rainfalls that we saw during that January-February period as well as the milder temperatures,” John McGregor, MFGA extension support, said. “We were kind of hoping it wasn’t going to happen but, as it turned out, it did.”

According to association documents, alfalfa crowns may be damaged if soil temperature dips below -12 C at a depth of two inches and prolonged exposure at that temperature may kill the plant.

Those conditions were met last winter, the association has said. Added to that is the impact from the mid-winter mild period, which ate away at the insulating snow layer. The association has estimated a four-inch layer of snow may provide 10 to 15 degrees of protection. The melt, however, left portions of fields bare while pools of water later refroze, potentially suffocating the crop below.

“What we’re hearing so far is it still could come back, but what we’re going to find is in those areas where there has been damage, the percentage will vary depending on the topography of the field and just how severe the stand was affected, whether it was an old stand or a young stand,” McGregor said. “Those are the kind of factors that we won’t know right now until we get closer for another couple of weeks.”

Doug Orchard, who farms just outside of Miami along the Pembina Valley escarpment, said he has winterkill for the first time on a field he sowed down about seven years ago.

The winter damage affects about a third of the 50-acre field, he said, although damage is patchy.

“It was worse early and it’s coming back very, very slowly, but I don’t think it’s going to totally recover,” he said.

Other producers in the area are seeing similar problems.

Some producers, McGregor says, have turned to overseeding the flagging alfalfa crop.

“They need to assess the total (amount) of forage that they need and, in that case, they may need to go in and overseed that alfalfa field with some grasses or cereals like oats or barley so they can collect some greenfeed or they may need to put aside some other fields and grow some annual forages in that to make up the shortfalls,” McGregor said.

While reported anecdotally, the damage did not make its way onto the May 8 provincial crop report, which reported the majority of pastures in the east in “good to fair” condition. Meanwhile, conditions in central Manitoba ranged from “poor” to “good.” The report noted that excess moisture was a concern in some fields, although forages generally progressed well during the first week of May. Fields in the Interlake were at or near moisture capacity, the report noted, while regrowth in northwest Manitoba has been limited.

David Van Deynze, vice-president of insurance operations with the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation, says few forage claims have been made in 2017, although that would be expected at this time of year.

“Winterkill, obviously, is a legitimate cause of loss, but it really is based on, or is going to come into play, when they go to harvest this forage and when they have a low yield at the end of the year, they’re going to report that to us and that’s when a potential claim would kick in,” he said.

Van Deynze noted that producers with damage severe enough that they need to re-establish a stand must first call MASC so the loss can be evaluated.

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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