Ontario Crop Report - Forage & Soybean Seasonal Summaries

For emerging issues and to provide comments on this report information can be obtained on the OMAFRA website.

This is a brief summary of the 2003 forage and soybean cropping season, with emerging issues identified for consideration in the 2004 growing season. Reports for cereals, edible beans, canola and corn will follow. During the next year attend meetings, ask questions, and participate in projects to find answers to these and other issues.

Forage Seasonal Summary

Alfalfa winter survival was good, despite extensive harvesting during the 2002 Critical Fall Harvest Period. Some winterkill was experienced in the east and northwest, particularly on poorly drained fields, and with new seedings on heavier soils. Winter survival of summer seedings was poor where dry conditions reduced or delayed emergence going into the fall.

Cool, wet spring weather delayed forage growth considerably. The cool weather slowed the growth and development of the legumes more than the grasses. This resulted in a high proportion of relatively mature grasses in mixed stands. Alfalfa fibre levels were higher than normal based on stage of development.

Early first-cut harvest was delayed in many areas due to frequent rainfall. Yields were very good, but forage quality was reduced, either by advanced maturity or rain-damage. Considerable amounts of hay were treated with propionic acid or wrapped as baleage. Very little dry hay was made without rain damage or mold until mid-June.

Laboratory analysis of first cut hay and haylage indicated higher than normal NDF and lower CP levels, but with close to normal NDFD (fibre digestibility).

Some alfalfa weevil was reported at threshold levels in the south-west but limited spraying was required.

Potato leafhopper levels were extremely high across the province, particularly in the Lake Erie area. Damage to new seedings and second-cut regrowth was extensive in some areas. While awareness of this damaging insect pest is increasing, further management is required.

At the time of seeding, moisture conditions for summer seedings were adequate in most areas of the province. Drier weather followed in mid-August to early September, resulting in slower emergence on later seeded fields.

Pasture production was very good. The cool spring delayed early development, but improved grass production. Some damage was done when cattle were turned out according to the calendar rather than the development of the pasture. Adequate rainfall supported good early summer pasture growth. Dry conditions from mid-August to early September slowed pasture growth.

Corn silage yield and quality were generally adequate. Despite the potential for immature corn silage, frosts did not occur until the first week of October. After frost, moisture dropped rapidly and some corn silage was harvested at moisture levels that were too low. Laboratory analysis of fields with lower grain yields indicates lower digestible energy levels.

With adequate moisture in most parts of the province, pastures and stored forage yields have been good and forage inventories appear to be average or above average. The exception to this is in some parts of northern Ontario (Rainy River, Algoma, Temiskaming and Cochrane Districts). With a window of good harvest weather in early October, there was some forage harvested after the Critical Fall Harvest Period.

The BSE situation created a producer dilemma with regards to forage inventories. In the short term, feedlots holding cattle off the market required extra forage. In the longer term, feedlots reducing stocker cattle purchases will require reduced levels of forage inventories. On the other hand, cow-calf producers and backgrounders that hold cattle that they normally would sell will increase their requirement for forage inventories and temporary storage.

Challenges for 2004

Potato Leafhopper

Potato leafhopper (PLH) levels were very high in some parts of the province, resulting in significant damage and yield loss. New alfalfa seedings are particularly affected. Potato leafhopper damage in alfalfa is frequently underestimated. More scouting of alfalfa fields needs to be done, with insecticide application when scouting thresholds are exceeded. Resistant varieties are an excellent management option in areas where PLH levels are traditionally high (Lake Erie counties).

Evaluation of Forage Quality Using NDF & NDFD

Improvements have been made in determining forage quality. Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF) and Fibre Digestibility (NDFD) are a more accurate measure of digestible energy than Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF). This can result in more accurate ration formulations and forage intake predictions. Producers of high quality forage should request in vitro NDFD analysis from laboratories. Corn silage should also be analyzed for starch and NDFD to more accurately estimate digestible energy.

Soybean Seasonal Summary

Soybean yields have been extremely variable in 2003, ranging from 10 to 55 bushels per acre. Fields that appeared to have over 40 bushels per acre potential in August sometimes yielded 30 bushels per acre or less. Seed size was extremely small, significantly lowering yields. Factors including moisture stress, disease incidence, and SCN and soybean aphid prevalence contributed to this. However, seed quality was generally excellent. Lower than anticipated soybean yields in the U.S. have improved prices.

The majority of planting was delayed until late May and June due to wet spring conditions. Some heavier soils were not suitable to plant until after June 15th, especially in the Niagara area. This late planting date resulted in lower yield potential. Some replanting was also necessary. A cool wet spring, along with poorer seed quality due to last years dry conditions resulted in thin plant stands. In extremely late planted fields, killing frost (<-2° C) occurred before the plants could fully mature and the seed inside the pod was still green (R6 growth stage). These immature beans took on a glassy wax-like appearance. Much of this seed did not mature normally and retained a green colour, even as the seed dried down. In the most extreme cases, these seeds shrank down to smaller than normal size after drying and have lower oil content. Beans with a greenish colour and wrinkled seedcoat are considered damaged soybeans and are discounted.

Cloudy days during the summer meant less sunlight for photosynthesis. This, along with cool nights in July, slowed reproductive growth and interfered with flowering. Although plant height was considerable, pod set was surprisingly light due to late planting, cool nights, cloudy days, and dry conditions. In the southwest part of the province, August and September was extremely dry. Although sporadic showers in July kept the crop from suffering during early plant development, moisture stress soon became evident during August.

Soybean aphid populations were generally low until mid-August. At this time, populations increased rapidly and aphids could be found across the entire province. Yield impact due to aphids was most apparent where plants were already moisture or disease stressed.

Challenges for 2004

Soybean Aphids

Although aphid populations were minimal in 2002, high populations this year have raised concerns for next year. Current research supplemented by Ontario based field scale comparisons will be evaluated to develop a revised soybean aphid control strategy.

Soybean Cyst Nematode

SCN continues to move across the province. SCN have now been found in fields as far east as Peel Region. Continued crop rotation and the use of resistant varieties have become even more necessary in affected fields to minimize the yield impact of this pest.

Risks and Benefits of Identity Preserved (IP) Soybeans

Increased adoption of Roundup Ready soybeans will continue to put pressure on the IP market. Producers will continue to weigh the benefits and risks of growing for this market.

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca