Good message about potentially dry growing season

A borrowed quote: “It will rain again and when it does we will be glad to get it”. 

((Editor’s Note: Heading into the 2021 grazing season, here are some wise words from Larry Wegner, chair of the Manitoba Forage and Grazing Association.)

 On-Farm Thoughts: 

Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) Chair Larry Wegner farms near Virden, Manitoba with wife Rosemary and sons Max and Herbert. The Wegner family has been advocates of regenerative agriculture practices around grazing and soil health and they have bolstered their on-farm approach via numerous conferences, grazing clubs and webinars. Prior to his term as MFGA Chair, Larry served a full director term on the board for Manitoba Beef Producers where his passion for healthy lands led to further postings and roles with the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC). This is Larry’s second blog of 2021.

Annual Grazing Charts Signal Need for Proactive Producer Actions

As we end April 2021 and get ready for May, I felt this would be good timing to jot some thoughts on the forage industry in Manitoba.

Larry Wegner of Manitoba

In our farm’s system, we declare a rain event if it produces more than 25 mm or one inch of rain in 24 hours. Looking back at our family farm’s grazing chart for 2019 and 2020 (*grazing chart is a record of where the cattle grazed, how long they grazed there and the grazing conditions such as rain, temperature and forage yield) we had one rain event in June 2020 and then have to go back to August of 2019 to the last rain event. Of course, there have been local squalls, spring snow dustings and micro-bursts that have provided smaller moisture amounts that have helped keep plants growing and stay green while dampening soil.

So without a doubt: WE can use a good rain. As I write this, I remember a quote I read somewhere along the line: “It will rain again and when it does we will be glad to get it”. As producers, our job is to do the best we can with the moisture we have and make sure when it does rain that we can make the best use of it. The golden rule for all of us should be:

Do not let any precipitation run away on you, catch it and hold it on your land.

That may sound like some crazy ambitious thought, but it is not. There are producers out there who have deliberately planned for these dry times and are doing fine by proactively monitoring their soil and plants. Additionally, there are Business Risk Programs (BRP) that are aimed at producers exactly for these times and it is up to all of us to make use of these programs in the best interest and best fit with our farms.

However, without a doubt, as producers the biggest thing we can help our own farms with is by being proactive not reactive. Over time, we have developed some proactive checks and balances that have helped us buffer these dry times:

  1. Do a forage inventoryand re-cast and project the existing several times at different rain levels 1”, 3”, 6” and 10”.
  2. Match your herd size to each forage inventory scenario. We do not want more cattle to feed than forage available. Break the herd down on paper to different classes that can be sold once maximum feed is matched. This formula will take the emotion out of sorting your herd when it is time to sell.
  3. Mark your calendar and set the date in stone as to the best time to sell for each class based on your inventory match. Remember it is easier to err on the side of caution than to sell too late.
  4. Manage and monitor the water for your herds. The value of good water shows up in cow condition and calf weaning weight. We pump from dug outs and dams we have installed over the years to increase our own farm’s water storage on our own land. I will start pumping water to the herd in the next few days. Our water pumping will be two months earlier than last year and four months earlier than 2019. There are programs to help with water on your ranch through the Watershed Districts and the Environmental Farm Plan. Be proactive and start to check out these programs, there is no cost to check them out.

Moving Forward, Moving Together

Inevitably though, in these times, we all look ahead and wonder what we will do for feed next winter? Will there be hay, greenfeed, silage or straw? What will grain, pellets or screening be worth?  Over the past few weeks, I have driven across the prairies and we are all in similar conditions. This year, I am hearing some areas have a good start for moisture, yet we know everyone will need moisture soon. Even if we get average rain fall in 2021 how much forage can you expect to produce? Will you have any forage for sale? Will you want to keep your herd for winter? These are the big questions running through my mind.

We need to work together and help each other even if it is only to listen to a stressed uncertain producer or the turnaround of providing the advice and knowledge to your family and neighbours. Droughts run in cycles, if this is a middle year versus an end year on the drought cycle, what will you do next year if we get less than average rainfall? These dry conditions cover the North American Great Plains moisture map and go all the way to the south west to Mexico. A North Dakota-based podcast that I heard last week predicted some stateside areas will need double their summer rain fall to be at levels considered an average year. These tough times also create adaption and wisdom opportunities. If you look hard enough there is always someone in tougher times than you. How are they coping and what can I learn from their experiences and knowledge?

MFGA is focused on pushing for positive producer-based outcomes. In these times, we are looking to work with other ag groups toward having more government-owned lands released for summer grazing and haying. We also have good relations with conservation groups that own land and we will be learning more about their plans for their lands around summer grazing and/or hay. Over the past few years, MFGA has developed and maintained a MFGA Hay Relief Page complete with report and conditions at key timing windows to assist Manitoba forage and livestock producers in finding information and sources to help cope with and plan for challenging times on the livestock feed front. We encourage producers to list extra pasture and feed on Manitoba Agriculture Resource Development (MARD) feed and pasture web page.

At the end of the day, as producers, our farm’s success always filters back to our own main actions. We must make sure we are making the right calls to the right people and utilizing the best resources. Besides reaching out to the local producers in your areas or network, it is always wise to contact MARD staff on options out there. The Internet has created incredible information availability and we have the world at our finger tips. Use the Internet to check out things or make plans that we all can do brought to you free of charge by some of the world’s best experts on grazing plans, drought preparations and stretching your feed supply. Some of the sites I have referenced and used are Beef Cattle Research Council, Ranching for Profit, Holistic Management, Verge Permaculture, North Dakota Grazing Coalition, Western Canada Soil Health and Grazing Conference, Regen Ag Book Club, Greener Pastures Ranching Ltd, Modern Methods for Forage Improvement, How to Reduce Risks.

Over the past three years, MFGA has hosted our annual MFGA Regenerative Agriculture Conference and our website has posted all past conference speakers and presentations. You may not agree with all of these viewpoints and you certainly do not have to follow any of these groups or speakers, but the opportunity is there to take away one or two ideas and make them work for you. The trick is to ask the right questions or seek the best information around your own farm’s operations and situations.

Next week, we start calving and lambing on our farm. We will be calving on stock-piled forages that we have not grazed since June 15 and July 10, 2020 as part of our grazing plan.

New babies always make the world look brighter.

(Article courtesy of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association e-bulletin for May 2021)


About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.



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