Ontario Field Crop Report
2006 Forage Crops Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Alfalfa Winterkill in Eastern Ontario
  2. New Seedings
  3. Insects
  4. Hay Inventories Tight in Some Areas
  5. First Cut Yields and Quality
  6. Second and Third Cuts
  7. Pastures
  8. Critical Fall Harvest Period
  9. Challenges for 2007

Technical information can be obtained at the OMAFRA Field Crops Webpage and Crop Pest Ontario. Referenced OMAFRA Publications include the Agronomy Guide for Field Crops (Publication 811), the Field Crop Protection Guide (Publication 812), Guide to Weed Control (Publication 75), and Ontario Weeds (Publication 505). These can be obtained from your OMAFRA Resource Centre, or by calling 1-800-668-9938.

Most areas in southern Ontario had excellent seasonal forage yields and good quality. Stored hay and haylage inventories are at average to very high levels creating downward pressure on prices compared to a year ago. Northwestern Ontario was the exception where significantly reduced yields and inventories were experienced in Rainy River and Kenora because of dry weather. Other areas impacted were also parts of Algoma, Manitoulin, Bruce, Grey, Simcoe and Huron. Wet weather during May and June frustrated attempts at making high quality first-cut in some eastern Ontario counties. Subsequent harvests of high forage yields provided a great recovery in some parts of the province, such as the east-central counties, in comparison to the dry weather and hay shortages of 2005.

Alfalfa Winterkill In Eastern Ontario

Significant alfalfa winterkill again occurred in eastern Ontario, although not as severe as in 2005. Up to 40% of the alfalfa was affected with some fields totally lost, the area from Brockville to the Quebec border and up to Ottawa was the most affected. The poor winter hardiness was the result of warm fall temperatures and a late frost, followed by wet weather and saturated soils in December 2005. Extremely cold weather with little snow cover in early January likely resulted in extensive freezing damage. Fields cut during the Critical Fall Harvest Period in 2005 were more severely affected. Other contributing factors included ice sheeting, alfalfa root disease complexes and crown heaving on heavier soils. Diseased older stands on flat, clay soil types were most susceptible to damage.

Alfalfa winterkill was not significant across most other parts of the province despite extensive harvesting during the 2005 Critical Fall Harvest Period because of low forage inventories and good harvest weather. Harvesting during the critical period occurred again in 2006 in many areas. Harvesting during this period can increase the risk of winterkill as experienced in Eastern Ontario.

New Seedings

The winter survival of 2005 summer seedings was poor where extended dry conditions in August and September reduced or delayed emergence going into the fall. Seeding conditions in April and early-May of 2006 were excellent and most new forage seedings were in the ground in optimal time. While most areas received adequate moisture in May and June, some areas including parts of Huron, Bruce, Grey and Simcoe were dry. Where rainfall was delayed, the success of new forage seedings was less consistent.

In general, summer establishment that occurred during optimum seeding dates appear to be in good shape. Later seeded fields that experienced delayed emergence due to drier August weather are at a higher risk of reduced stand establishment and should be scouted for winter survival success early next spring.

Insects

Some alfalfa weevil was reported at threshold levels in the southwest, but very little spraying was required. Potato leafhopper (PLH) levels were above threshold levels in many parts of the province, particularly in the counties bordering Lake Erie. Very few of these acres were sprayed, but an increasing number of affected farmers are considering the use of available PLH resistant alfalfa varieties.

Hay Inventories Tight In Some Areas

Hay yields and inventories are reduced in some of the cow-calf areas of north-western Ontario because of dry weather, particularly Rainy River and Kenora. Forage rainfall crop insurance claims were received in parts of Manitoulin, Algoma, Huron, Bruce, Grey and Simcoe counties. Agricorp paid out $2.2 million this year to 400 customers, down significantly from 2005. Rainfall data can be viewed on the Agricorp website.

First Cut Yields and Quality

Optimum harvest dates of first-cut "dairy quality" alfalfa haylage typically occurred about the third week of May for much of southern Ontario. Yields of early-cut alfalfa haylage were generally excellent. Rain during the last week of May delayed silo filling for some farmers, resulting in slightly lower than optimal crude protein levels and higher fibre levels than the benchmark 20 - 30 - 40 targets. However, according to data supplied by Agri-Food Laboratories, fibre digestibilities (NDFD) were generally higher than expected.

Weather conditions for making dry hay were generally good in early-June, but periods of rain in late-June created challenges for some farmers. Parts of eastern Ontario experienced difficulty making dry first-cut hay without rain-damage due to excessive June rainfall. The good conditions for making dry hay in early-June reduced the need for propionic acid application and baleage for first cut in most parts of the province.

Second and Third Cuts

Second and third cut yields were variable, depending on rainfall in localized areas, but were typically well above average. Second-cut laboratory analysis indicates that most samples have adequate protein, but higher than normal fibre levels. Many of the third and fourth-cut analysis indicate very high protein with very low fibre levels.

Pastures

Pasture growth started a little slow, with cool temperatures and limited rainfall during April and early-May. By mid-May, soil moisture levels were restored allowing pastures to progress as expected. In much of the cow-calf areas, particularly Bruce, Grey, and Simcoe counties, June and early-July were typically hot and dry, resulting in low soil moistures levels while timely rains by mid-July restored moisture levels in most areas. Growth continued at above average through late July, August and September. Livestock gains on pasture have typically been reported as above average with good quality grass available over the grazing season.

There were several exceptions to these good growing conditions. Rainy River, Algoma and Manitoulin were dry to extremely dry throughout the summer months and supplemental feeding was required by mid-season. The Algoma Community Pasture removed cattle from grass in August.

An increased adoption of rotational grazing practices has resulted in increased forage productivity. Increased sales of portable and temporary fence components have been reported by the fence supply industry. These management tools allow the producer to increase forage utilization and provide rest periods for forage re-growth to occur.

Annual forages, such as sorghum-sudan grass, turnips and late-planted oats are increasingly being utilized in grazing and summer feeding programs. These crops provide an opportunity to fill some of the low periods that occur in the perennial forage growth curve and extend the grazing season further into the fall.

Critical Fall Harvest Period

Hayfields looked excellent in September in most areas, with strong fall regrowth. Some forage acreage in parts of the province with a lower risk of alfalfa winterkill was harvested during the Critical Fall Harvest Period. With heavy growth, some producers took a final cut after the killing frost, which typically occurred the first week of October.

Challenges for 2007

Managing Alfalfa Winterkill

Alfalfa winterkill continues to be a serious issue in some parts of the province, particularly eastern Ontario. There are many contributing risk factors, including the weather, soil type, drainage, disease complex, potato leafhopper damage, variety selection, fertility, and cutting management. Options to reduce winterkill involve lowering plant stress to a minimum. These include improved drainage and soil structure, controlling insect pressure, ensuring adequate fertility, selection of varieties that are winter hardy and highly disease resistant, avoiding very short cutting intervals, and respecting the Critical Fall Harvest Period. For more information see:

Potato Leafhopper

Potato leafhopper (PLH) damage in alfalfa is frequently underestimated. PLH levels are frequently high in some parts of the province (such as the Lake Erie counties), resulting in significant damage, yield loss and seeding failures. New alfalfa seedings are particularly vulnerable. More scouting of alfalfa fields needs to occur, with insecticide applied when scouting thresholds are exceeded. PLH resistant varieties should be considered in areas where levels are typically high.

Strategies To Ensure Adequate Forage Inventories During Dry Weather

Dry weather impacts pasture and forage yields and reduces forage inventories. Farmers must develop management strategies in the event of dry weather that include rotational grazing, the use of drought resistant forage species, and the use of annual forages including corn silage. For more information see:

Rotational Grazing

Changing from a continuous to rotational grazing systems which subdivide fields and involve frequently moving livestock can result in significantly more production. A rotational grazing system can double the forage production over a continuous grazing system, and reduce the amount of hay fed during the dry summer slump. Rotational grazing with 5 or 6 paddocks, 5 to 7 days grazing, and 28 to 30 days of rest works well. Even a less intensive 4 paddock, 10 days grazing, 30 day rest system can increase production over continuous grazing. For more information see:

Harvest Management For Quality Dry Hay

Frequent rains and narrow haying windows result in reduced amounts of quality dry hay without rain damage or mould. Predicting the weather can be frustrating, but proper conditioner maintenance and adjustment, strategic windrow management and raking, and the use of propionic acid as a hay preservative, can assist producers in reducing the risk of poor hay quality. For more information see:


For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca