Hay shortage looms in wake of drought

Mark Hoimyr realized earlier this summer that a hay shortage was a possibility on his farm near Gladmar, Sask.

He decided to buy hay locally, just in case.

The decision was the right one because a severe drought hammered hay crops across southern Saskatchewan this summer, including production on Hoimyr’s farm.

“I would say our (alfalfa) yields were probably about a third of normal,” Hoimyr said, which is decent considering that Gladmar, west of Lake Alma, received almost no rain in June and July.

“We had phenomenal moisture this spring. I think that’s the only reason we’re not in worse shape.”

Hoimyr is one of many cattle producers in the region that had a poor or terrible hay crop this summer.

An Agriculture Canada map, based on data from a network of producers on the Prairies, shows that severe hay shortages are expected south of Weyburn, Sask. As well, moderate shortages are expected in the area south of the Trans-Canada Highway in Saskatchewan.

Lorne Klein, Saskatchewan Agriculture forage specialist in Weyburn, said the hay crop is decent closer to the Manitoba border, but south and southwest of Weyburn it’s awful.

“They (producers) are really scrambling for forage. The traditional alfalfa grass/hay crops: all the way from less than half (production) to not even worth cutting,” he said. “There are lots of hay fields that didn’t get cut this year.”

Consequently, livestock producers in the region are doing whatever they can to boost forage supplies. Many cereal crops were cut before harvest and will be used for feed this winter.

“People are salvaging everything they can get their mitts on,” Klein said. “(Producers) are cutting sloughs and marshes that maybe haven’t been cut for a while.”

Buying hay is also an option. Earlier this summer Hoimyr purchased hay from a source reasonably close to Gladmar.

Now, finding hay in southern Saskatchewan is much more difficult.

“In a lot of years, there are areas not too far outside of ours that have better (hay) yields and we’re able to pull (it) in,” Hoimyr said.

“But that doesn’t seem to be the case this year.”

Compounding the problem, many pastures in southern Saskatchewan are in poor condition because of the drought. Ranchers may have to put cattle on feed earlier than anticipated, thus increasing the amount of forage needed to get through the winter.

So, producers might need to downsize herds this fall, Hoimyr said.

“There’s a chance that there’s not going to be enough hay to go around.”

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