By Tom Collins
COBDEN — Renfrew County farmers are frustrated with Agricorp’s payout for poor hay yields, saying it’s not enough to make up for the monetary loss of poor crops.
Cobden beef farmer Dean Peever has experienced a hay shortage the last two years.
“Crop insurance let us down both times,” he said. “Even when things were good, we were struggling to break even.”
Peever farms 200 acres on the 120-year-old family farm. He also has an off-farm job in the insurance business.
Last year, first-cut yields were down 20 to 25 per cent. Second cut was even worse, yielding about one-third of a bale per acre. “It was hardly worth cutting,” he said. He doesn’t do a third cut.
To make up for the lack of hay, Peever spent roughly $30,000 last year buying local hay to feed his herd. Agricorp sent him a cheque for $34 to make up for lost hay, he said. A 4-ft-by-5-ft hay bale can cost $50 to $75. “I can’t be feeding $75 a bale to beef cows.”
After doing calculations for this year, he figured it would cost about $45,000 to get him through. He sold 60 beef cattle at an auction in February.
“I’m pretty frustrated by it all,” he said. “The writing is on the wall when you’re spending that kind of money on hay.”
Farmers say one of the issues with Agricorp payouts is the way it calculates rainfall. A claim for hay loss can start if there is insufficient rainfall during May, June, July and August, or excess rainfall during first cut. Agricorp has automatic weather stations across the county that measure rainfall. If the rainfall is less than 85 per cent of the long-term average rainfall for the area, a claim may be paid.
However, farmers say there’s a flaw with that system. They say if there’s no rainfall for most of the summer, but then a deluge in the last few days of August, the weather station will report an average rainfall, even though the precipitation was too late to help with second-cut growth.
It’s also tough as weather can be fickle. One farm might not get any rain while the next farm over can get more precipitation than needed. Despite his rough go last year, Peever said another hay grower about three miles from him yielded 3 to 4 bales per acre.
Exacerbating the issue is that much of the province experienced huge losses of alfalfa winterkill last year. Some reports were that as much as 60 to 80 per cent of Eastern and East-Central alfalfa acres lost to winterkill. While Renfrew County was spared, that winterkill took out much of Eastern Ontario’s supply while ratcheting up demand.
Beachburg-area farmer Myles England grows hay each year for his cattle and sells excess hay. While he had a fairly good first cut last year, the dry summer meant he had hardly any second- and third-cut hay. He normally sells anywhere from 200 to 300 bales in a good year, but last year, didn’t have any hay to sell, he said.
At the annual meeting for the Renfrew County beef farmers earlier this year, England put forward a resolution to have Agricorp look at revamping the program for hay and pasture. He said insurance didn’t cover his hay loss from last year. He was talking to other farmers who joked they quit the hay insurance program a long time ago. England figured that he wasn’t the only one in the same boat, and decided he could quietly quit the program or ask for some kind of a change. “What I was looking for was help,” he said.
That resolution led to a special information meeting on March 5, attended by about 60 farmers.
He was hoping Agricorp would agree to take the hay insurance payments by farmers and apply it to this year. However, all Agricorp officials would say at the March 5 meeting was they were going to look at tweaking the program, he said.
The meeting took place before COVID-19 kept large groups from meeting.
England said while he hasn’t heard of anyone else selling a herd of beef cattle, he knows of others who were selling weaning calves earlier than usual because of lack of feed.
“There’s a lot of pressure on beef producers,” he said. “It’s just one more thing to push them over.”
Despite selling his herd, Peever loves farming too much to stay away. While he doesn’t know if he will get back to a full herd, he kept five cows and a bull.
“I couldn’t be totally without,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get back into it. I know I can’t be without cattle.”
Farmers frustrated with insurance hay payouts
By Tom Collins