By Connor Lynch
HARROWSMITH — Some beef farmers are going to be trimming the herds a second year in a row, with hay yields down and prices up.
Ontario’s drought may not have done too much damage to the corn or soybean crops, although the final tally is yet to be taken. But it certainly did a number on the hay.
Beef farmer Dave Perry, who farms at Harrowsmith north of Kingston, has been driving as much as 40 km afield in search of hay. “There’s some people cutting some still. But I think volumes are still down,” he told Farmers Forum last month. Two back-to-back dry springs have done a number on stocks.
Perry was one of many farmers who had to cull animals last year, just because he couldn’t find enough hay to feed them. He sold 40 of his 160 head and is mulling more culling this year. “I was hoping to rebuild (the herd) this year, but I have to hunt around for more hay just for what I have right now.” With farmers calling him looking for hay, he suspects many others might be in the same boat.
He buys hay most years and started buying in June this year. By then prices were already up, with a 4×4 round bale going for $40 to $50, compared to the more typical $30 or even $25 in an especially good year.
Supply and demand being what it is, prices have only gotten higher since. Lanark County beef farmer Kent Schmidt said he’s seen 4×4 bales being advertised for $80, and large square bales going for $130. “It’s trading at double the cost you’d normally sell for. But there’s literally no hay for sale, that’s why it’s like this.”
Some growers were still taking off second cut in September, and there was some hope that it would at least mitigate a feed shortage. But “I know a lot of guys who are short,” some by as many as 400 bales. “I know I didn’t get that many.” And many growers, Schmidt included, were hesitant to offer any hay until they were sure their own feed situation was taken care of. Schmidt had 40 acres of corn silage to take off so he hasn’t had to buy any hay, but: “I wasn’t committing to anyone, didn’t’ want to sell myself short.”
Culling is probably on the agenda again this year. “Every beef herd has animals you could cull. But, two years in a row though?”
And for farmers who do end up buying feed in the fall, there are other problems. Chesterville-area beef farmer Ian Payne said late-season hay has to get wrapped since it can’t be left out to dry, which is just an added cost on what’s likely to be an expensive product already. Lots of farmers won’t have a choice but to downsize. “You can’t buy (hay) at $100 a bale and feed cattle profitably.”
This year’s hay and forage yields varied widely across the province said Terry Nuhn, president of the Ontario Forage Council.
Nuhn said hay and forage supplies plunged last year due to wet weather that hampered harvests.
“When we entered this season the cupboards were bare for the old inventory of hay. Nobody had any surplus as in years past,” said Nuhn, who runs a forage additive company.
He said prices were high and demand was strong early in the season, and that was enhanced by a cool, dry spring across most of the province. Nuhn said that first cut yields were generally down at least 10-15%, especially in eastern Ontario near the Quebec border where there was more winter kill and crop stress.
Nuhn said the second cut was “all over the map” with spotty rain across the province as temperatures soared. But he said farms that were able to manage a third and fourth cut did much better.
“It probably got us back to a more normal season for volume. The August rain and September heat has stabilized things. In the last few weeks the amount of hay and forage cut was huge.”
Bruce Johnson, who operates a dairy farm just east of London, said his hay crop was a disappointment. He said a prolonged dry spell cut the size of his hay and forage crop by as much as 30-40 per cent. “The quality is okay, but the quantity just isn’t there,” Johnson said.
Farmer in other areas fared much better.
Dufferin County’s Jon Blydorp, said he had an excellent crop because his area was not hit by the mid-summer drought and managed to get a third cut. “I think we had near record volumes.”
Lambton County beef producer Joe Dickenson said that “By the end of the year we came out fairly well. We had a prolonged drought that really hammered the second cut. Some farms in our area had an incredible third cut and some guys who were more aggressive got a fourth cut and it looked good too.”
Josh Mullin, who farms near Feversham in Grey County, said he had a good year overall with average or above average yields. He said he did not harvest his first cut until late June so his crop did not suffer from cool conditions in early spring. “Those extra couple of weeks of heat really helped the yields.”
Mullin supplies the horse feed market and exports the majority of his crop to the United States where he says demand is quite strong. He said there were no problems shipping across the border because the COVID-19 restrictions did not impact commercial trucking.
“The border was a lot quieter. The traffic was light. We were actually gaining time.”
HAY YIELDS SO VARIED: Prices spiked in Eastern Ontario and beef farmers expect to cull for second straight year
By Connor Lynch