By Trevor Lennox, PAg, Regional Forage Specialist, Swift Current
The dry weather on the prairies has many producers wondering where their fall and winter feed supplies will come from. Some are experiencing very poor hay yields this year, thus forcing producers in these dry areas to look at alternative forage options for their livestock.
Producers in the dry areas may want to look at annual forages as an option to make up the feed deficit anticipated this coming fall and winter.
For those with annual cropland, perhaps it will mean shifting some land from grain to either greenfeed or silage. In some situations it will make financial sense to salvage a poor grain crop for feed purposes. For those enrolled in crop insurance, it will mean talking to their local Saskatchewan Crop Insurance office to get the particulars prior to making the decision to harvest a crop as greenfeed or silage instead of grain. It will usually mean that a crop insurance adjuster will need to come out to do an appraisal ahead of the cutting time.
For producers who do not have annual cropland, there may be the opportunity to work with a neighbour to purchase some standing crop. This would involve having a conversation with a neighbour to see what dollar value they would need out of their cropland if they were to sell it standing, with the realization that they would not have any cost associated with harvesting and marketing of the grain.
A challenge when purchasing standing crop for greenfeed is arriving at a price. Typically greenfeed is sold on an air-dry weight, which usually involves determining a value per ton and then calculating bale weights coming off the land. However, it is usually easier if farm managers can reach an agreement prior to harvest on a price per acre for standing crop, therefore eliminating the need to measure the amount harvested. In addition to agreeing on the method for measuring the amount of crop harvested, price, method of payment and approximate date of harvest should also be established. A written agreement is always recommended. Some producers are having success using social media sources such as Kijiji.ca and Facebook as a way to buy and sell forages. Always inspect feed sources prior to making a deal so you are aware of the quality and any potential issues with the feed.
It is often hard to predict a potential yield when considering to take a crop as greenfeed. A rough rule that has been used in the past is to use a weight ratio of 1:2 (grain:whole crop). In dry years when grain yields are low, the ratio may be as much as 1:2.7, therefore favouring greenfeed yields in drier years. For example, a wheat crop that is predicted to yield 10 bu/ac if harvested as grain, would yield 1200 to 1620 lbs (0.6 to 0.8 Ton/ac) of greenfeed.
One issue in particular when using drought stressed crops for feed is the potential for nitrates to accumulate in the plant. Nitrates can be tested by sending a feed sample to an accredited lab. If nitrates are detected at a high level, the feed can still be used, but may need to be diluted out with another feed source.
For further inquiries on annual crops for feed you can contact your Regional Forage Specialist or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377.