June 20 is the last day to seed wheat in Manitoba and be eligible for crop insurance.
The final tally won’t be known for a while but several hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, mostly in the southwest, won’t meet that deadline because they are too wet to plant.
If their land dries up over the next several weeks, which for some is a big ‘if,’ producers still have options.
One is greenfeed, which if planted by July 15, is eligible for crop insurance coverage at 20 per cent less coverage.
Even though greenfeed is a small crop — there were just 53,000 acres insured last year — it turns out almost 87 per cent of crop insurance policyholders have greenfeed as an option. Some farmers might not know their contract includes greenfeed, David Koroscil, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s (MASC) manager of insurance projects and sales said in an interview June 11. MASC staff encouraged farmers to include greenfeed and other less grown crops in their contract because it costs nothing to do so. Farmers only pay premiums on the crops they plant, Koroscil said
MASC defines greenfeed as oats, barley, mixed grain, wheat, rye, triticale, field peas, sorghum, sudan grass and millet grown separately, or in any combination.
Farmers also have until June 25 to seed sweet clover and still be eligible for an $80-an-acre reseeding benefit should that crop fail. Farmers can’t get production insurance on sweet clover seeded this year until next year.
Naturally, planting sweet clover or greenfeed now would fit well with farmers who have cattle, but it can also work for straight crop farmers.
“Forage supplies now are definitely down,” following a long, cold winter and late spring, Shawn Cabak, a livestock and forage specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development said in an interview June 11.
“Growing something is better than nothing to help dry the land out. Summerfallow is a moisture conservation measure so it’s the worst thing you can do.
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Seeding a greenfeed crop, even if you’re not getting any revenue off it you’re helping to dry the soil out.”
There are many greenfeed options, including regular cereal grains such as oats or barley or more exotic ones such as millet or sorghum.
The latter two require more heat, while oats or barley are more adaptable to cool or warmer weather.
“Sometime we’re looking for that magic bullet, but we’re often better to stick with what we know and what’s available for seed,” Cabak said.
Oats or barley have more herbicide options too.
The two can be combined but that can make for uneven maturity and fewer herbicide options.
Both should be planted at a normal seeding rate, but apply less nitrogen, if it hasn’t been applied already, he said.
“Extra nitrogen delays maturity and excess nitrogen can cause nitrogen accumulation in the plants at harvest, which is a concern with livestock feed,” Cabak said.
High nitrates in greenfeed can prevent livestock blood from carrying oxygen, which can be deadly to animals eating it.
Sorghum that’s cut too early or grazed soon after cutting can contain prussic acid, which is also harmful to livestock.
And spoiling sweet clover can contain coumarin, which can thin animals’ blood.
But Cabak stressed all those risks can be managed and shouldn’t discourage farmers from growing greenfeed or sweet clover.
Oats, barley, millet and sorghum can be cut and baled or ensiled. Both require equipment, which a cattle producer might have, making a partnership more attractive.
Oats and barley can be cut for baling or silage at between the soft- and hard-dough stage. Both crops tend to carry a lot of moisture. If it rains while they are in the swath it will take awhile to dry out enough to bale.
Glyphosate can be applied to a greenfeed crop, which is then cut seven to 10 days later. As the crop dries down it turns yellow, hence the name.
“You can bale it almost right behind the swather just because it’s drying down on the stem,” Cabak said.
“This yellow feed option works quite well and the feed value is similar to normal greenfeed.”
Sweet clover, a biannual, can produce a harvestable feed crop if seeded in July. And it can be kept and harvested again next year.
Another option is to work sweet clover down in the fall as a “green manure” adding nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, while drying the soil out.
Creating temporary pasture is another option for unseeded fields, Cabak said. Farmers can mix up and plant some spring cereals and winter wheat. Unlike the spring cereals, if not continually grazed, winter wheat will not head out, remaining in the vegetative stage.
The farmer could leave the winter wheat to harvest next year, although grazing can negatively affect grain yield.
“It’s something to think about,” Cabak said. “The more options producers have, the better.”