This year’s Forage Expo, hosted July 6 by Barry Ribey and family near Paisley, was a microcosm of the 2023 Ontario hay season so far. Some high-quality equipment and forage were on display, but precipitation played havoc with attendees’ ability to enjoy it.
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Leading up to the first week of July, that corner of Bruce County had been short of rain compared to many other parts of the province. Across Ontario, it was unusually dry through much of May and into early June, with sporadic precipitation beginning in the second week of June and gradually building in some regions to saturation levels by the end of the month.
Why it matters: The annual Forage Expo is a key networking event for both custom forage-making operators and companies vying to supply those operators with equipment.
At the Ribey farm, there had been about two inches since mid-June, including a good rain two days before the Forage Expo. On a sunny and hot July 5, with more rain in the forecast, several equipment suppliers took the opportunity to run their machinery and take videos in case weather forced them to show Forage Expo visitors on the small screen instead of in real-life.
“It would have been great to be able to show everybody in the field but we just didn’t want to take the chance (of not being able to run the equipment at all),” said Aric Wilson of Woodstock-based Leading Edge Equipment, who works with numerous smaller European-based manufacturers to bring haymaking and other equipment to eastern Canada.
Terry Nuhn of Nuhn Forage, president of the host organization Ontario Forage Council, reported that event organizers were able to rearrange scheduling of lunch and demos to try and dodge Thursday’s showers. This allowed a few demos to take place.
But dodging rain is something hay producers are getting used to this year — somewhat surprisingly, given the dry start to the hay-making season.
“First-cut was abnormally dry, with a few crop stresses coming together to make for a really early start for some people,” Nuhn told Farmtario.
That included not just the July-like heat and sun in late May but also a late frost that accelerated maturity in some of the grasses. Many producers cut and baled significant acres of dry hay in May.
“In general, yields were a little lighter” on those acres, Nuhn said.
Quality has also emerged as a potential problem in those early-harvested bales. Both the Ontario ag ministry and the forage council issued advisories in mid-June urging producers to monitor moisture levels in May hay because there were numerous instances of rising moisture levels in stored hay, even though producers initially thought it had completely dried in the field.
“There was a lot of hay where the plants just weren’t ready to be cut in May,” Nuhn said.
“There was still moisture showing up in those plants and it ended up that there was some poor-quality hay made during that early start.”
He added producers may still discover further trouble as they break into stored bales and find mould.
Producers who “were a little more patient and waited until after those June 10-12 rains (if they got those rains) saw a little more tonnage on their first cut.”
Quality was also generally improved for those who waited until the traditionally common date for harvesting dry hay, noted Nuhn.
Since then, however, rain has stymied plans for many Ontario producers.
“For those that didn’t get the hay off in early June, there are still some places where they’re still waiting on first cut,” Nuhn reported.
Forage Expo typically falls at the height of second cut, but this year, those hoping for dry hay are still waiting. Both quality and quantity look promising, Nuhn said. The alfalfa has great regrowth due to ample precipitation and even the grasses coming back strong for a second cutting.
The experience with first cut has producers wary of trying to squeeze in cutting, drying and baling between forecasted rains.
“We’ve been advising our customers to be cautious of those moisture levels and be sure to treat it with preservative if you think it’s necessary,” Nuhn said.