2020 Forage Seasonal Summary

Figure 1. Alfalfa Snout beetle damage

2019/2020 Winter Conditions

Much of the province had a mild winter, with average amounts of precipitation. Areas of Chatham-Kent, Lambton, Huron, Grey, Bruce, Timiskaming, Cochrane, Rainy River, and Kenora received below-average winter precipitation.

Forages broke dormancy early in much of the province, with green-up starting in mid-March in the southwest. Overall, reports of winterkill were normal or below-normal levels, except in Prescott & Russell, where high amounts of alfalfa winterkill occurred. Alfalfa snout beetle could be a contributing factor in these winterkill reports as it is known to be present in these two counties, as well as in fields in neighbouring counties in eastern Ontario. Alfalfa snout beetle larvae girdle the taproot, often completely severing the root. Signs of injury are apparent in late fall but can go unnoticed and be reported as winterkill the next spring (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Alfalfa Snout beetle damage
Figure 1. Alfalfa Snout beetle damage

Figure 1. Alfalfa Snout beetle damage

Hay and Haylage

Planting intentions were up compared to 2019, in response to previous year’s winterkill issues. Much of southwestern, central and eastern Ontario new seeding was planted by the end of April due to early snow melt and average or below-average rainfall.

Despite early green-up, cool conditions persisted until late May, which reduced GDD accumulation and slowed forage growth. Yields varied across the province, with earlier-cut fields generally yielding lower than expected. First cut on dairy farms was fully underway by the first week of June in the southwest and the northwest, and by the second week of June in central, eastern, and northeastern Ontario.

For second and subsequent cuts, yield reports reflected rainfall patterns. Potato leafhopper pressure was high in these stunted crops as “hopperburn” reduced yields in affected fields. Increased rainfall in much of the province for August increased disease pressure in alfalfa, which could affect crop yields and persistence.

Many producers harvested alfalfa during the fall rest period to boost forage inventories going into winter. This added stress on the crop increases the risk of winterkill. Producers should monitor these fields with plant counts in the fall and at green-up. Plant count thresholds decrease with stand age and can be found in Table 1. Fields with plant counts below threshold have significantly reduced yield potential, so it is most economical to terminate those fields, rotate them into a non-alfalfa crop, and establish new stands elsewhere.

Table 1. Alfalfa plant count guidelines

Age of stand # of healthy plants/square foot
New Seeding 20+ Plants
Year 1 12-20 Plants
Year 2 8-12 Plants
Year 3+ 5 Plants


Pastures that had adequate rest in fall 2019 looked good in the spring. Pastures that were overgrazed in the fall grew very little by comparison. Cool spring conditions meant grass growth was slow, and some pastures were hard-pressed to carry livestock until the delayed first cut of hay came off.

Spring grazing management and summer rainfall affected the duration and severity of the summer slump on farms. Many farms were forced to start feeding stored forage soon after first cut was harvested, and in some places fed livestock for several weeks.

Much of the province received average or above-average rainfall in August, which, along with cooler temperatures, encouraged pasture regrowth that enabled producers to graze into the fall.

Annual Forage Crops

Cereal rye forage yields were average to excellent and helped extend forage inventories to first cut.

Some producers were forced to take silage corn off early due to low inventories. Reports suggest yields were average to good. Fields that have been in corn for three or more consecutive years with repeated use of Bt rootworm hybrids are at high risk of developing Bt-resistant corn rootworm populations. Corn rootworms can cause significant silage yield losses, even before symptoms like lodging and goose-necking appear (Figure 2). To reduce corn rootworm populations, producers should rotate out of corn for at least one year, but ideally for the next two to three years. More information on managing Bt-resistant corn rootworm in silage corn is available on FieldCropNews.com.

Figure 2. Silage corn lodging due to corn rootworm injury
Lodging due to corn rootworm injury. J. Smith, UGRC


















Figure 2. Silage corn lodging due to corn rootworm injury

Sorghum-sudangrass acres were down from 2019 but remained higher than past normals. An early frost in mid-September challenged harvest and grazing plans by increasing the risk of prussic acid poisoning in livestock.

Annual forages and cover crops established after winter wheat generally yielded very well. These crops helped boost forage inventories going into winter or extended the grazing season.


The Forage Rainfall Plan paid out $6.6 million under the insufficient rainfall option due to the dry spring and early summer conditions. Another $1.4 million has been paid out under the excess rainfall option. This makes 2020 the highest payout year to date ($8 million), followed by 2016 ($7.5 million) and 2012 ($5.7 million).

Over 94,000 acres were insured under the standard and premium options of the New Forage Seeding production insurance program in 2020. Total claims paid were $960,000.

Upcoming Events

November 18 & 19 – Canadian Forage and Grassland Association annual conference “Vision 2020: Growing Forage Opportunities”. For program and to register visit https://canadianfga.com/2020/ – Note that agenda is in Pacific Time.

December 1, 2, & 3 – Forage Focus conference “Wrap It Up: Harvest, Storage, and Recycling”. Free webinars, 1pm EST/noon CST. For program and to register visit http://ontarioforagecouncil.com/programs/forage-focus

March 9, 10 & 11 – Profitable Pastures conference as webinars. Details will be made available at http://ontarioforagecouncil.com/programs/profitable-pastures