Prairie forage supplies seen tightening

CNS Canada –– Forage supplies are tightening as the winter drags on across Western Canada, according to provincial forage specialists, though the strong cattle market is allowing some producers to sell their animals at a fair price.

The situation appears to be the most critical in Alberta, where a rising number of producers are telling government officials they’re running short of silage.

“I’ve had six (calls) in the past four days,” said forage specialist Barry Yaremcio at the provincial Ag Info Centre in Stettler.

Farmers with hay for sale are generally found on an Alberta website, but in the northeast part of the province there are no listings, he said.

The cold winter is also squeezing producers in Saskatchewan who are going through a lot more hay and straw than they typically would, according to provincial forage specialist Terry Kowalchuk in Regina.

Overall supplies are good, he reports; however, distribution is an issue, with some producers having oversold last summer and now finding themselves with a tight supply.

In Manitoba, the feed supply is below average and some producers are beginning to run short as they head into spring. A few have begun to mix their feed with straw and other sources of energy to get by, according to Glenn Friesen of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Carman.

While the situation is far from settled, he said the output from last fall’s harvest has helped to temper the situation. “I wouldn’t say we’re drastically low.”

$100 a bale

The factors causing the uneven picture across the Prairies vary.

Heavy snowfall on Nov. 2 put an early end to swath grazing for Alberta farmers, Yaremcio said. The cows couldn’t access the two months’ supply of forage they had out in the field, so they had started to feed hay two months earlier than expected.

In Manitoba, Friesen said, the first cut of hay was delayed by rain. Some of the feed also got a little too mature before it was cut, thereby reducing its quality.

Winter temperatures in Saskatchewan were brutal and farmers had to use a lot of forage to keep their herds intact, Kowalchuk said. February in particular was the coldest February in 30 years, he added.

As feed stocks dwindle some producers have begun taking advantage of robust market opportunities.

“The silver lining here is that cattle prices have been very strong,” said Friesen, adding that some farmers have begun to right-size their herds to the level of feed available.

Kowalchuk says barley feed prices are generally lower and moisture conditions are looking favourable for the spring.

In Alberta, it’s harder for Yaremcio to see the bright spots. In some places, hay is running at $100 a bale or roughly $120 per tonne. The situation reminded him of the 2002 growing season when producers were spending six to eight cents a pound for hay.

“It’s going to take you a long time to dig yourselves out of that hole,” he said.

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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