Rain offers slight reprieve for forages, later crops

Now is a good time to think about rejuvenating forages or to plan around damaged pastures for next year: experts

“We’re still a long way from being out of what might be considered a drought.” – John McGregor.

Late-August rains should boost soybean pod fill and raise hopes for late-season forage, say crop experts.

“It’s going to have some very positive effects,” said John McGregor, extension specialist with the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA).

“The guys are talking about seeing their pastures greening up a bit,” he added.

Between August 16 and August 22, most of Manitoba saw rains ranging anywhere from 120 mm at Reedy Creek in the Northwest and nearly 118 mm in Mountainside in the Southwest to 30 mm at Menisino and 28 mm at Dominion City in the Southeast, according to the Aug. 24 provincial crop weather report.

Hopes for late forage

Farmers could start to see significant growth on pastures in the next few weeks, and there may be enough for cattle to graze without doing damage, said McGregor. This will depend on what pasture conditions were before the rain.

“The moisture did come early enough before the end of the growing season,” said Shawn Cabak, provincial farm production extension specialist.

Producers, particularly in areas hardest hit by drought, will have to let forages recover but things are greening up and will improve, he said.

With that greening up comes potential for a very late cut of hay. Days of cool, damp weather are good for alfalfa, said McGregor. He added he’d seen fields in the Southeast with eight or 10 inches of growth.

“Those type of fields, with this moisture, they’re probably going to continue to grow,” he said.

Producers may also decide to take a cut after the first frost or may choose to graze hayfields that were previously browned off, said Cabak.

Effect on silage

Cabak speculated that rain may help corncobs fill, which will help silage corn tonnage. However, it may keep producers from turning grain corn into alternate feed.

Peter Gilbraith of Gilbraith Farm Services, based in St. Claude, said he wasn’t sure the rain would help much.

“I think a lot of it’s already kind of made up its mind how much it’s going to do on the cob,” he said.

Gilbraith estimated he had about 20 per cent more producers on his customer list for custom silage this year — owing largely to grain corn converted to feed.

“There’s going to be so much feed, I think, once we start,” he said. “I’m not going to be able to chop everything that needs to be chopped.”

Rylee Geisler, a custom silage contractor from the Ashern area, said corn is extremely variable in his area. In early August he posted a photo to Facebook of his own cornfield, which is stunted and browning. It appears to just reach the tops of the wheels on his semi.

Near Ashern, corn is averaging four to six feet high, he said. Near Eddystone, which is on the other side of Lake Manitoba, he’s seen corn standing six to 10 feet high.

“It’s a lot of inconsistency in places,” Geisler said.

Moisture may help some corn fill cobs, he said.

The quality of what he’s cut has been actually quite good, he said, though the quantity has been low. Most people he’s talking to expect four to eight tons per acre of silage, which is about half of normal, he said.

Late crops see some benefits

Rains came too late for cereals, much of which are already harvested, canola and flax, the province said in its Aug. 24 crop report.

Later crops like mid- or late-season soybeans, dry beans, potatoes, corn and sunflower will likely see some benefits in fuller seeds or better weight gain.

“Any of those pods that were kind of on the edge of filling to now be able to fill properly, so those last few pods that might have, you know, dried off now will probably fill,” Dennis Lange, provincial pulse specialist, told the Co-operator.

Dry beans are starting to dry down, he said, but the moisture will likely help with seed size.

During the Aug. 25 Croptalk webinar, Lange said he’s seeing soybeans browning and drying down prematurely because of salts in the soil. He projected a provincial soybean yield average of 25 to 30 bushels per acre.

Thinking ahead

Despite some reprieve from rains, forage producers need to think about how they’ll rejuvenate forages next year.

Cabak said he saw newer, younger fields of alfalfa and grass do better than old ones this year and in other years. Annuals, which are moisture efficient, also did better than perennials.

“I think producers need to look at including some of those annual crops in their feed plan because they will perform better under dry conditions compared to perennials,” Cabak said.

The rain will green up fields which may allow producers to spray them and then reseed to an annual in spring. Then they can reseed to a perennial forage in a year or two, said Cabak.

Farmers may also need to plan ahead if they’ve been forced to jeopardize hay stands and pastures this year because of drought and scarce feed.

“I think the key here for a lot of producers for next year is that they should be planning now. Not so much that a drought will continue, but if they’ve done damage they’re going to have something in place (for next season),” said McGregor.

Ditches and dugouts are still empty, McGregor added. “We’re still a long way from being out of what might be considered a drought.”

— With files from Alexis Stockford

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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