Forage crop is looking up midway through the season

by Emily Leeson
Last year, a dry spring in the region meant that many forage producers were seeing diminished yields. Late frosts compounded the problems. Many found themselves short on their winter feed. 

This year, a wet spring has meant a slow start to the season and it seems the predictions on forage crops across Atlantic Canada are a mixed lot.

John Best, who alongside his partner Emily Shapiro, runs Becaguimec Farm, a mixed livestock farm in Cloverdale, N.B., said in late July that his forage yields this year have been tremendous. He added that he was seeing evidence of others with similar results through his work at the New Brunswick Seed Growers Co-op. 

“Silage plastic and twine, bail wrap – you name it – we’ve been selling out of stuff because people have way more volumes of stuff to wrap and tie up,” said Best.

For Best and his neighbours, this year is panning out much differently than last year.

“The hay crop is up comparatively,” he said of the 30 acres he uses for haylage and dry hay production. Much of that harvest will eventually be sold into the U.S. through a broker. Best said that his small square bales will make their way south, likely toward Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Cedric MacLeod, executive director of the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association, said that producers throughout northern New Brunswick are feeling pretty good about where they stand with the forage harvest so far this year.

“We’ve had some really phenomenal yields,” he said. “It was wet early on, which got things started well. It was cool and we got a good first cut off and the second cut is coming along really well.”

On his own grass-fed beef operation, Local Valley Beef in western New Brunswick, MacLeod splits his 300 acres about half and half between pasture and winter storage crops of silage and hay. MacLeod said his pastures are also looking great this year.

“We use a fairly intense rotational grazing program,” he said. “Our grass gets a lot of rest. Things are looking really good for us so far.”

MacLeod said the corn crop is also looking auspicious. That’s not to say it wasn’t a tough start. 

“There was a lot of winterkill in New Brunswick, especially down south with some of the ice on the forage fields back in February,” he said. “New Brunswick, though, is faring probably better than other Maritime provinces. I know Nova Scotia struggled with water. We’re in a much better place than they are.”

Nova Scotia suffered through a difficult spring. The long, wet start to the season meant trouble for many producers. Nova Scotia forage production can be best described as “spotty,” said Sonny Murray, a field crops specialist with Perennia Food and Agriculture Inc. in the Annapolis Valley.

“Coming out of spring, we had a lot of winterkill,” he said. “Then we got into a late spring – a late, slow spring.”

Murray said some Nova Scotia farmers reported first-cut yields that were 60 percent of typical yields.

“That’s kind of tough,” he said. “And then you combine that with the fact that a lot of the stands had the legume thinned out of them.” That all adds up to fields yielding lower protein content than desired.

However, things are looking up.

“Coming into the second cut, we had great moisture,” said Murray. “That second cut is very dependent on moisture.” A good second cut may make up much of the difference for Nova Scotia producers. 

“Some of it has come off or is coming off now and it looks quite good,” said Murray in late July.

From here on out, Murray said farmers will do all they can to maximize production. “They are going to be fertilizing more heavily and I think they’ll know their position going into winter,” he said.

John Tompkins, a spokesman with Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, said that forage yields in that province are varying region to region. “Production is up on the west coast of the island portion of the province, and down on the east coast, with a higher than usual amount of plants impacted by severe winter conditions,” he said.

On P.E.I., Kevin Simmons wasn’t so sure of his own position until quite recently. The Simmons family runs Wilsim Farms, a cow-calf operation and feedlot in Irishtown. 

“We didn’t think we were going to have a good hay crop a month ago, but we just finished our first cut and we have a good average crop and the pastures are holding up well,” said Simmons in late July.

He suffered from the same rough start to the season that affected Nova Scotia farmers. Simmons has taken his first cut off the 400 acres he harvests for silage and round bales, but he’s still a bit wary of how the second cut is faring.

“The second cut looks good but it kind of went to a standstill in the last week or so and I’m not sure why,” he said in late July. “We have been getting a little bit of rain – short on sun sometimes – but I think it’s normal.”

The Simmons family also grows corn for silage. “The corn is on schedule, but corn does need heat in August,” said Simmons.

Simmons said he fared quite well last year and even made it into the spring with a bit of a buffer of leftover feed. 

That wasn’t the position many found themselves in. Many dealt with hay shortages coming out of 2018. MacLeod said that he thinks this year, despite early difficulties, may offer many a chance to get ahead again.

“I think most guys, given the challenges we had with the shortage, have stepped up their game this year,” he said. “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet. A lot of spare forage that would have been stored as dry hay in barns was pretty much used up last year. This year, it’s imperative that guys go that extra step and put that little bit extra away and get that reserve built back up. I think, for the most part, folks have taken that to heart and they are working on that.”