Winter 2020/2021 Conditions

Overall, winter 2020/2021 was mild, with below average snow cover. Much of the province experienced a big thaw in March, losing most, if not all, snow cover. The rest of the month was dry. There was a good two-week window to frost seed in the middle of March. Some cover crop oats in southwestern Ontario survived the winter. Alfalfa winterkill was minimal.

Hay and Haylage

Many producers focused on forage fertility this year to improve hay yields and inventories. Dry spring conditions allowed for early seeding, but late frosts may have challenged some of those young plants.

Alfalfa weevil was found in the second week of May in the southwest and the third week of May in central and eastern Ontario.

First cut hay on dairy farms began in earnest the Victoria Day weekend in southwestern and eastern Ontario, and the last week of May in central Ontario. While many agronomists commented that the crop was shorter than expected, yields tended to be average or above average due to dense stands (high plant populations) that overwintered well.

Regrowth after first cut was slow in most areas due to dry weather. Alfalfa weevil pressure continued to be high on second cut. The hot, dry weather allowed the weevils to get ahead of the pathogenic fungus that usually controls the weevil population. Much-needed rain began to fall in central and eastern Ontario in late June, but adverse dry weather affected the northwest for the remainder of the growing season.

Potato leafhopper damage was prevalent again this year. Producers should be proactively scouting alfalfa starting late May.Fall armyworm caught everyone off-guard with a second generation that arrived in August and caused crop damage during the warm fall weather.

Fall hay growth was heavier than normal due to warm, wet weather (Please see Figure 1 of annual rainfall). Too much growth in grassy stands can cause smothering over winter. Grass hay fields should be cut to 15 cm (6 in.) height in late fall to catch snow and prevent smothering. In contrast, alfalfa drops its leaves after a killing frost and the stems remain upright, so it does not smother. Fall harvest of alfalfa can reduce yields the following year by depleting root reserves that fuel spring growth.

Figure 1. Percent Average Precipitation (mm) over year (November 2020 – 2021). Source: Agriculture Agri-Food Canada.

Pastures

In the spring, pasture growth seemed relatively steady despite dry conditions, but regrowth after a grazing event was very slow. Southwestern Ontario started to get regular rainfall in early June, while central and eastern Ontario were dry for almost another month after that. Once regular rains began, pasture growth was very good, and the summer slump was shorter than normal this year.

Due to adversely dry conditions in northwestern Ontario, producers ran out of pasture part way through the season. Reports suggest that rotationally grazed pastures had 4-6 weeks more forage in them than continuously grazed pastures.

Annual Forage Crops

Winter cereals were generally in excellent condition coming out of winter. Fields that received good fertility yielded very well. Winter cereal forage provided a much-needed inventory boost on many livestock farms this year.

The 2021 Grain Corn Ear Mould and DON Mycotoxin Survey found 89% of samples tested low (<2.00 parts per million (ppm)) for DON which is in line with long term survey averages. In 2020 there were several reports of corn rootworm injury to hybrids with below-ground protection from Bt traits. This suggests that Bt-resistant corn rootworm populations exist in Ontario. Continuous corn is at highest risk of economic damage by corn rootworm, and growers are encouraged to rotate out of continuous corn rotations for 2022. More information about this serious silage corn pest and how to join the corn rootworm trap network are available on FieldCropNews.com.

Sorghum-sudangrass continues to be a popular choice as a high-yielding, warm-season forage crop. The warm, wet fall brought good growing conditions for annual forages seeded after winter wheat.

Agricorp

The Forage Rainfall plan offers coverage for established hay and pasture for insufficient rainfall and excessive rainfall. The 2021 forage growing season was variable across the province. Weather conditions in northwestern Ontario were extremely dry, particularly in the Rainy River area. This resulted in crop damage and very poor hay and pasture yields, with livestock producers looking for alternative feed supplies.

The Forage Rainfall plan paid $7.3 million in claims for the insufficient rainfall option and $3.8 million for the excess rainfall option. This makes 2021 the highest payout year to date ($11 million), followed by 2020 ($8 million) and 2016 ($7.5 million).

There were 89,000 acres insured under the standard and premium options of the New Forage Seeding production insurance program in 2021. Total claims paid were $870,000.

Upcoming Events

November 30, December 1 & 2 – Forage Focus conference “From Field to Feed”. Free webinars, noon EST/11am CST. For the program and to register visit https://onforagenetwork.ca/events/

December 14, 15 & 16 – Canadian Forage & Grassland Association annual conference “Forage Landscape Synergies”. Offering simultaneous French/English translation. For the program and to register, visit https://www.canadianfga.ca/events/2021-conference-home/ March 8, 9 & 10 – Profitable Pasture conference. Free webinars, 7:30pm EST/6:30pm CST. Details will be made available at https://onforagenetwork.ca/events/