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Window opens on first forage cut of 2017

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association estimated the province’s ‘Hay Day,’ when forage quality begins to hit the cut-off for optimum quality at May 30

Hay Day is on the horizon, according to the first Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association Green Gold reports.

Between May 18 and May 23, eastern Manitoba forage stands had dropped 34 points, although growth had slowed due to cooler temperatures, with plants adding only 1.3 inches in height. The east averaged 221 relative feed value points (RFV) as of May 23, still above the 170 RFV recommended cutting target. The association has said some stands may drop below 150 RFV, optimal levels for finished hay, after May 30.

Green Gold results from previous years have put first cut times between May 29 and June 22 on average.

Reports for central and western Manitoba and the Interlake had not been released at the time of printing.

“Parts of the western area are very similar in height and crop staging as to what we are in the eastern area,” Green Gold co-ordinator John McGregor said. “As we go up farther north, like north of Brandon and stuff like that, we are seeing that the crop is a little bit shorter than what we have here. They could be one week later than maybe what the eastern region will be.”

The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association estimates that a crop loses five RFV points per day under normal drying conditions and that another 15 to 20 points are lost during harvest.

“If we’re looking at putting something up at that 150 relative feed value, we kind of recommend that if you’re baling it, you cut it at 170,” McGregor said. “You’ve got about a four-day dry-down window and therefore you’re looking at probably pulling off something that’s close to 150, but if you get rain on it, that will leach out a lot of the carbohydrates in the feed and therefore the energy levels will go down and therefore the feed quality will go down.”

A producer may not be able to cut at optimal levels due to weather or equipment issues, McGregor acknowledged, but maintained that the program improves planning ability for producers.

“They will start to see alfalfa declining in their area by a certain level and, if they look at the weather and they see a three-day window that’s available, they could go out and they’ll cut their hay early and get it up and it won’t be at 150, it could be at 170 or 180,” he said.

Science says

For McGregor and his colleagues, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) test results are the gold standard, although values calculated through a PEAQ ruler system (Predictive Equation for Alfalfa Quality) are also reported through Green Gold.

The lab-based NIR test determines levels of indigestible and digestible fibre, while the PEAQ ruler uses a function of growth stage and plant height to estimate quality.

“The NIR one is more of an exact type of science, whereas the PEAQ stick that we also talk about, that’s something producers can have on their farm and they can just go out into their alfalfa fields and just get a rough idea as to how it’s advancing,” McGregor said.

He added that PEAQ results may become skewed if alfalfa is under stress and may be of limited use in early- and late-stage alfalfa.

“It’s a ruler,” McGregor said. “It’s a type of guideline. What we like to see guys do is they will use the PEAQ stick. They go out into their field; they get an idea of what (their RFV) is and then, if they want to get a more accurate measure of it, then they can send a sample into Central Testing.”

Green Gold samples have a 24-hour lab turnaround, the association has said.

Dairy quality

Manitoba’s dairies have once again thrown their weight behind the program as a sponsor this year. The industry has some of the highest requirements for high-quality forage, with feed quality and animal diet highly linked to dairy productivity.

Henry Holtmann, vice-chair of the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba and one of the dairy producers to use the Green Gold program, said he prefers forage values between 150 and 170 RFV on his own operation.

“This is where we get our forage, our protein source, to feed the cows for the year and if we can do this really well and get the best quality possible, it actually reduces our feed costs to our cows and we can get more milk per cow,” Holtmann said.

Holtmann says he generally finds the Green Gold program accurate, but stressed that adjustments are necessary for each farm to predict how closely their fields will reflect reported values.

His operation for example, he said, falls several days behind the Green Gold sampling farm south of him.

Holtmann also uses the program to anticipate loss should harvest be delayed past “Hay Day,” when values are expected to hit 150 RFV.

“It actually gives us a more detailed look at how much protein there is in that plant and then how much it decreases as it gets older, so even though the plant looks like it’s lush and it’s growing, you can’t tell just by looking at it what the quality’s like,” he said.

Farmers growing a forage mix will have to take that mix into account when planning for RFV, McGregor said. Green Gold reports test pure alfalfa and do not reflect the impact of grasses within a crop. The high fibre of the grasses lowers protein and RFV and may speed up the timeline to cut.

“What I’ve found is there could be a 25- to 35-point spread between the pure alfalfa and the grass/alfalfa mix,” McGregor said.

Adjustments may not be as significant with soft grasses such as orchardgrass, according to Manitoba Agriculture. The more digestible grasses may be undercut by RFV testing, the province has said.

Volunteers wanted

The Green Gold program is actively looking for recruits.

About 16 producers are contributing samples this year, McGregor said, consistent with previous years, although he noted that some producers opted out of the program this year due to forage winterkill. Six fields are being tested in eastern Manitoba, one of the worst winterkill regions, ranging from Steinbach and Grunthal to Stonewall.

The association is targeting stands mainly consisting of alfalfa and relatively recently established.

Participants in the program submit samples twice weekly, which are then couriered or hand delivered to the lab that day. Delivery costs are covered by the association.

The association says the consistent, real-time information on alfalfa quality provided to program participants lays down a firmer foundation for them to make management decisions.

Producers wishing to join the program may contact McGregor at [email protected].

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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