High quality forages may be pricey, difficult to find

WINNIPEG — There seems to be no shortage of forages in Western Canada this year because the wet weather has allowed grasses to keep progressing at a steady rate.

However, finding high-quality hay could be the challenge, according to crop watchers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“It’s been tough for guys to put four to five days together to get hay up. So a lot of hay was silage or guys just let the grass grow until it got really mature,” said John McGregor of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association.

Terry Kowalchuk, a forage crop specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, agreed that high quality feed will be in short supply this year, “simply because of the high moisture conditions and poor quality — that will command premium prices for anybody who has it.”

He said 70 to 80 percent of the stands in Saskatchewan contain a mixture of alfalfa and grass.

“Alfalfa is probably more susceptible to weathering than grass,” he said.

Spreading out windrows might be needed to help dry down the plants, he added.

Much of the lower-quality hay in Manitoba may be suitable for beef cows, said McGregor.

“Producers will still have to look at feed tests and may have to supplement forages to meet the needs of the cow,” he said.

Disease threats have been relatively sparse in Western Canada, considering how much rain has fallen.

“Storage is going to be extremely important trying to preserve that hay quality and keep the moisture out of it,” said Kowalchuk.

“If it gets put up wet, then there’s going to be degradation.”

McGregor said prices in Manitoba are similar to the late end of last year.

“Around the $80 a tonne range. There’s a larger volume of hay out there so the prices are there, but the demand isn’t there,” he said.

However, the range is fairly wide in Saskatchewan.

“Alfalfa brome is anywhere from $80 to $175 (per tonne). It’s a pretty broad range, which is a function of quality,” said Kowalchuk.

“Grass is $85 to $125.”

Prices may be on the verge of dipping, too.

“I would say that after the market highs we reached last summer, things moderated, and right now I would say that they would probably be trending downward,” he said.

Producers in Saskatchewan also appear to be bumping up their stocks in the wake of last year’s shortfall, when most farmers were mostly limited to one cut.

“We’re coming off of last year’s drought, so people had better crops as the year went on,” he said.

Producers looking for forages will certainly be able to find them, McGregor said. However, he said most will likely shop around for the best grasses they can find.

“Because there’s no shortage, anyone looking for hay will likely be looking for good quality hay.”

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