Ontario Field Crop Report
2007 Forage Crops Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Alfalfa Winterkill
  3. New Seedings
  4. Insects
  5. Brown Root Rot and Aphanomyces Rot Disease
  6. Hay Inventories
  7. First Cut Yields and Quality
  8. Second, Third and Fourth Cuts
  9. Pastures
  10. Critical Fall Harvest Period
  11. Corn Silage
  12. Challenges for 2008

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.

Summary

Seasonal forage yields were quite variable across the province, depending on rainfall. Rainfall data from the Forage Rainfall Crop Insurance Plan indicates that many areas of the province were deficient in rainfall during some or all months, of the forage production season. This includes many parts of southwest and central Ontario, the Quinte area, and Algoma and Manitoulin in the north. Most parts of eastern Ontario received adequate rainfall for average to above average forage yields. Forage supplies are very tight in some of the affected areas. Haying conditions were generally very good, which resulted in good to excellent forage quality.

Alfalfa Winterkill

Despite some anticipation of alfalfa winterkill, winter survival was very good to excellent in most areas, including eastern Ontario.

New Seedings

Seeding conditions in April and early-May of this year were very good, and most new forage seedings were planted in excellent time. This resulted in good establishment for areas that received adequate moisture in May and June. Where rainfall was reduced, the success of new forage seedings was less consistent. Annual broadleaf weed control was a problem in some fields.

Summer seedings that were completed during the optimum seeding dates appear to be inconsistent due to extended dry August weather and delayed emergence.

Insects

Some alfalfa weevil was reported at threshold levels in the south-west but very little spraying was required. Potato leafhopper levels (PLH) were above threshold levels in many parts of the province, particularly in the counties bordering Lake Erie. PLH worsened the negative effect of the dry weather, resulting in poor regrowth and low yields. Very few of the affected acres were sprayed, but an increasing number of farmers are considering the use of available PLH resistant alfalfa varieties.

Brown Root Rot and Aphanomyces Root Rot Disease

Brown root rot (BRR) disease of alfalfa is a new winterkill risk factor that needs to be considered when evaluating stands. Preliminary survey results suggest that BRR may be a significant and widespread problem in Ontario. BRR is caused by a fungal pathogen that thrives at cooler soil temperatures. Infection of the roots can have a detrimental impact on over-wintering health and promote other diseases, winterkill, stand decline and yield loss.

Aphanomyces root rot (ARR) is another fungus disease that may also be causing significant losses in alfalfa production. Many alfalfa fields showed visual symptoms of Aphanomyces in 2007, although this has not been confirmed by laboratory analysis. ARR is considered a major cause of disease in alfalfa seedlings in wet soil conditions. Aphanomyces also affects adult alfalfa plants and can dramatically reduce yield and vigour of established stands. Because alfalfa roots are stunted with reduced secondary roots, root hairs and nodules, affected fields performed very poorly in dry areas, with very little or no regrowth.

Hay Inventories

Hay inventories carried over in the spring of 2007 were greater than normal in most parts of the province due to excellent 2006 yields. However, where 2007 yields were dramatically lower, forage inventories are reduced and hay is in tight supply. The areas north of Lake Erie from Lambton and Elgin to Niagara were significantly affected. Also affected were the cow-calf areas extending from Bruce County to the Kawartha Lakes and Quinte, as well as Algoma and Manitoulin. In these dry areas, first-cut yields were typically 65 - 100% of normal, but second and third-cut yields were often reported to be 0-50% of normal. The Forage Rainfall Crop Insurance Plan paid $5.9 million in 909 claims. This compares to $2.2 million paid in 2006. In 2007, 52% of program participants across the province received a claim. Rainfall data and details of the Crop Insurance Program can be viewed at www.agricorp.com/en-ca/programs/rainfall.asp?year=2007&option=1.

Tight hay supplies in these areas have resulted in higher hay prices. Many of the affected cow-calf producers either sold some cattle in early fall, or used alternate forages such as corn silage (in areas where that was an option). While it was relatively easy to make "horse quality" hay, yields were often significantly reduced. With a shortage of hay in many eastern US states, demand for Ontario horse hay is strong. However, with higher transportation costs and the increased value of the Canadian dollar, hay exporters are finding this market to be increasingly competitive.

First-Cut Yields and Quality

There was a lag in temperatures with cool nights in early-April, followed by a gradual increase into May. The result was a slight delay in the maturity of alfalfa, and a higher proportion of grass than normal in mixed alfalfa-grass stands.

Optimum harvest dates of first-cut "dairy quality" alfalfa haylage typically occurred about the third or fourth weeks of May for much of southern Ontario. In general, the weather allowed for a timely first-cut haylage harvest resulting in forage quality analysis fairly close to the benchmark 20 - 30 - 40 targets. The exception was in eastern Ontario where harvest was delayed somewhat due to rain. Crude protein (CP), Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF), and fibre digestibilities (NDFD) were generally close to normal.

Weather conditions for making dry hay were generally good in June although some areas, including parts of eastern Ontario, had more difficulty making early first-cut hay without rain-damage. With overall good conditions for making dry hay, the need for propionic acid application or making baleage was reduced.

Second, Third and Fourth Cuts

Second and third-cut yields were extremely variable, depending on rainfall in localized areas, but were typically well below average in many areas. Many fields were cut without significant yield in an attempt to initiate regrowth. Laboratory analysis indicates that even though much of the second and third-cut was stressed by dry weather, quality was better than expected. Where fourth-cuts were taken, yield and quality were very good.

Pastures

Similar to hay and haylage, the "spring flush" of pasture production was also reduced due to the cool and dry spring. When cattle were turned out according to the calendar rather than the development of the pasture, some damage occurred. Many pastures entered the "summer slump" period early and required supplementation with stored feed.

Good pasture management and rotational grazing reduced the need for feeding stored forage during the summer. Pastures recovered more quickly in the fall where cattle had been removed to a sacrifice pasture during the dry weather. Many pastures have been severely injured by continuous over-grazing in situations where livestock inventories have exceeded forage supplies, compounded by dry weather.

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 spots that occur in the perennial forage growth curve, and extend the grazing season further into the fall.

Critical Fall Harvest Period

With drier autumn weather and a lack of forage, considerable forage acreage was harvested during the Critical Fall Harvest Period. This may increase the risk of alfalfa winterkill. These fields should be closely monitored in the spring to determine if remedial action is required. Some producers that needed feed waited for killing frost before taking the final cut.

Corn Silage

Corn silage yield and quality were variable. Corn silage was ready to harvest in late August and early September in most areas, about three weeks ahead of normal. As the corn crop matured and dried very rapidly, some corn silage was harvested at moisture that was too low. In areas severely affected by dry weather, corn crops with little or no cob were often salvaged as corn silage. Corn silage harvested and stored in piles or bag silos provided a good late season forage option for dairy and beef operations requiring additional forage inventories.

Challenges for 2008

"New" Alfalfa Diseases

Brown root rot (BRR) and Aphanomyces root rot (ARR) are diseases that can have a significant negative impact on alfalfa stands in Ontario. Preliminary results of a BRR survey indicate that it is a common and widespread problem in Ontario. This is a difficult disease to manage, but resistant varieties are being developed. Although many fields show symptom of ARR, surveying in Ontario for Race 1 and 2 of this disease is needed. ARR resistant varieties are commercially available.

Potato Leafhopper

Potato leafhopper (PLH) levels are often high in some parts of the province (such as the Lake Erie counties), resulting in significant damage, yield loss and seeding failures. Potato leafhopper damage in alfalfa is frequently underestimated. More scouting needs to be done, with insecticide application when thresholds are exceeded. PLH resistant varieties should be considered in areas where PLH 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, alfalfa disease management, and the use of annual forages including corn silage. For more information, refer to OMAFRA article Managing Forages in Dry Years. The Forage Rainfall Crop Insurance Plan is available to forage producers to help manage the risk of dry weather.

Managing Alfalfa Winterkill

Alfalfa winterkill continues to be a serious issue in some parts of the province, particularly in eastern Ontario. There are many contributing risk factors, including the weather, soil type, drainage, a multiple disease complex, potato leafhopper damage, variety selection, fertility, and cutting management. Options to reduce winterkill 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.

Rotational Grazing

Changing from a continuous grazing to rotational grazing system by subdividing fields and 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 10 or 12 paddocks, 2-5 days grazing, and 28 to 40 days of rest is ideal. Even a less intensive 4-6 paddock system with 5-10 days grazing with a 30 day or longer rest and recovery time will increase production over continuous grazing.


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