2011 Forage Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Forage Acreage
  2. Alfalfa Winterkill & Stand Vigour
  3. Newseedings
  4. Brown Root Rot & Aphanomyces Root Rot Disease
  5. Insects
  6. First-Cut Yields and Quality
  7. Second, Third and Fourth Cuts
  8. Hay Inventories
  9. Forage Crop Insurance

Forage Acreage

Forage acreage declined slightly in 2011, as fields were converted to row crops, taking advantage of higher commodity prices. Most fields rotated out of forage tended to be the older, less productive stands. Livestock demand continues to be strong and maintains demand for forages. Increased land costs and rental rates are resulting in improving forage management to maximize yields and quality in order to make every acre count.

Alfalfa Winterkill & Stand Vigour

Very little alfalfa winterkill was observed this year. In eastern Ontario, where alfalfa winterkill is common, producers have adapted their rotation, variety and fall harvest management. Additionally they have developed plans that include emergency annuals, feeding more corn silage and growing forage mixtures that include a high percentage of grasses. Fields showing alfalfa winterkill and heaving tended to occur where drainage is an issue. Some fall harvest of alfalfa occurred in 2010, but with a more cautious, strategic approach then observed in 2009 and conditions for winter hardening (cool and dry) during the fall of 2010 were good.

Excellent forage stands occurred in most areas. If poor stands existed it was because they were either, too old and needed to be rotated or because soil fertility was low, drainage was poor and disease issues existed. Many dairy farmers that use aggressive cutting schedules to improve nutrient quality have shortened their rotation schedules in order to compensate for reduced stand life. A 10 - 15% yield benefit and nitrogen credit to the following corn crop makes this strategy economically feasible.

New Seedings

Wet weather in April and early-May resulted in later than normal seeding. Some new seedings were reseeded due to extended flood damage. Late seedings coincided with drier weather, resulting in more variable establishment. In extreme cases, some seedings were delayed until August. This years' summer seedings were completed during optimum seeding dates appear to have germinated and established successfully. With reduced carry-over inventories of quality forage, there was significant use of cereals and cereal-pea mixtures as a companion crop. Also, an increased amount of oats were seeded as forage in late-summer and harvested as haylage or baleage late fall to increase feed inventories.

Brown Root Rot & Aphanomyces Root Rot Disease

Brown root rot (BRR) disease in alfalfa is becoming a significant problem in Ontario. The root infections can be detrimental to over-wintering vigour and promote other diseases, winterkill, stand decline and yield loss. Aphanomyces root rot (ARR) is another fungal disease that may be causing significant losses in alfalfa yield. Race 1 and 2 ARR resistant varieties are available.


Alfalfa weevil damage was reported in isolated areas mainly in the south-west portion of the province. Potato leafhopper (PLH) levels were below threshold in most parts of the province, except the PLH-prone counties bordering Lake Erie and Niagara. Many farmers in this area are using PLH resistant alfalfa varieties. Alfalfa snout beetle was found in isolated areas in eastern Ontario.

First-Cut Yields and Quality

Alfalfa dormancy was later than normal in 2011 due to cooler weather, and was significantly later than 2010. Slower accumulation of Growing Degree Days and alfalfa development resulted in more advanced maturity and increased proportion of grasses relative to alfalfa in mixed stands.

First-cut "dairy quality" alfalfa haylage harvest started around May 24th in much of southern Ontario. Harvest windows were narrow due to unfavourable weather. Soils that were excessively wet from either high rainfall or poor drainage saw significant rutting from harvest equipment. Variable forage quality occurred mostly because of differences in harvest timing. While good quality dairy haylage was harvested, there was a considerable amount of lower quality forage that was below the benchmark 20% CP - 30% ADF - 40% NDF targets. Dairy producers are increasingly relying on storing forage as haylage and plastic-wrap baleage to enhance harvest timeliness.

Some forage windrows experienced extended wilting periods. Rainfall during wilting leaches soluble sugars, reducing digestible energy and protein and resulted in some damaged forage being blown back on the fields. In dairy situations where reduced feed intakes may be the result of high butyric acid, a fermentation profile analysis can be used as a diagnostic and ration balancing tool.

Weather conditions for making dry hay without rain-damage was challenging although much better than the last 3 years. Retail demand and use of baleage plastic wrap and propionic acid have significantly increased in recent years to enhance the ability to harvest high quality dry hay.

Second, Third & Fourth Cuts

Second and third-cut yields and quality were quite variable with some very high quality forage harvested in later cuts. The proportion of grass to alfalfa was typically higher than normal. There was some hay harvested in good weather during the Critical Fall Harvest Period. Depending on fall and winter conditions, this may increase the risk of alfalfa winterkill. Closely monitor these fields in the spring to determine if remedial action is required.

Hay Inventories

Inventories of good quality hay carried over in the spring of 2011 were tighter than normal. Yields in 2011 average. Inventories of both early-cut, high nutrient hay, and "horse quality" hay made without rain-damage or mould should be adequate. Export demand for Ontario horse hay is good. High transportation costs, the weakened US economy and the increased value of the Canadian dollar limit what US buyers want to pay, but demand is strong as US forage acreage and inventories have decreased.

Forage Crop Insurance

In 2011, the Forage Insufficient Rainfall Crop Insurance Plan paid $1.0 million on 210 claims in 27 counties across the province. This compares to $233,000 paid on 63 claims in 2010, $325,000 paid on 128 claims in 2009, $64,000 on 34 claims in 2008, $5.9 million in 2007 and $2.2 million in 2006. The Excess Rainfall Plan was introduced on a pilot basis in 2011 to insure against excessive rainfall during the haying period. $701,000 was paid to 74 customers in 29 counties across the province. Details of this program and corresponding weather data can be viewed at: www.bit.ly/cropins

For further information, refer to the OMAFRA Forage Website.

Technical information can also be obtained at the OMAFRA Field Crops Webpage and Crop Pest Ontario.

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