Forage supplies starting to dip on dry Prairies

(File photo courtesy Canada Beef Inc.)

CNS Canada — Forage supplies are starting to dwindle across Western Canada following a long, cold, winter and rain is needed soon to make for a good forage crop this year.

“People tended to kind of blend hay this year and they managed to get through. But the prolonged cold spring really I think put a lot of pressure on feed supplies,” said Terry Kowalchuk, a provincial forage specialist in Regina.

Provincial crop reports in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta show producers face tight supplies. The April 30 crop report from the Saskatchewan agriculture ministry said producers have been forced to fall back on alternative feeds and feed grains for livestock while they wait for pastures to green up.

There is also concern about winterkill in pastures. According to Glenn Friesen, industry development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture in Carman, there isn’t yet a strong indication of just how much winterkill there is.

“We expect it to be a touch higher than normal,” he said, “and we’ve had a fairly dry and warm spring and we know producers are getting cattle in the pastures.”

Although grass is starting to grow in pastures, there is concern that due to tight forage supplies producers could be forced to send livestock out to pasture earlier than usual.

“Putting (the cattle) out early has kind of a double whammy. It does (hold) back the potential (pasture quality) by quite a bit, that’s the problem. Especially in a dry year like this,” Kowalchuk said.

While the forage situation isn’t looking the best in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the May 8 crop report from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry said hay and pasture conditions had improved following warm temperatures and precipitation across the province.

In drier portions of the Prairies, there has been concern about grass fires ruining pasture and hay land for the year, as several large fires have been reported across the provinces.

“That’s affecting fence posts. That’s affecting fences. And so the ability for a producer to use that piece now becomes an issue even if the grass does grow back, there’s lots of work to be done to rebuild it,” Friesen said.

The dry spring could also affect this year’s forage crops. According to Kowalchuk, the yield potential for forages depends on precipitation received in May — but due to the late spring, the province is two weeks behind where it regularly is for this time of year.

“If we got rain late May, early June I think we’d still be OK. But we could definitely use a good two- to three-day soaker right now for sure, provincewide,” he said, adding it isn’t at a critical point yet.

— Ashley Robinson writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Glacier FarmMedia company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @AshleyMR1993 on Twitter.

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