Disappointing harvest prompts land improvements

Harvest 2011 has been disappointing here. The shortened season took its toll and yields struggled to reach the farm average. I would envisage that we will be in a crop insurance claim situation for many of the crops.

For the second time in as many years, I find myself thinking: “Oh well, there’s always next year”. In response to the trend for wetter springs here we are spending some money on capital improvements to the land, namely drainage. Paperwork has been completed and permits applied for. We are patiently waiting for an approval to be granted before work can start, but with winter rapidly approaching my patience is wearing thin.

An exception to the disappointing crops is 76ha of Timothy hay, which soaked up the excessive spring moisture and produced exceptional yields. First cut yielded a whopping 9.9t/ha, followed by an equally impressive 5.5t/ha second cut. The farm average is normally 9-12t/ha for the season. The hay shed is stuffed full and immediate areas surrounding it are a mass of bale stacks.

Typically, Timothy is grown for the export market; more specifically for Japanese dairy farmers. We truck the hay locally to merchants who then super-compress the big square bales, usually squeezing three Hesston bales into the size of an original bale. It then gets loaded into a shipping container, takes a train ride to Vancouver and a boat voyage to Japan.

This season there is a strong domestic demand for hay and prices are reflecting the shortage in supply. A serious drought in Texas and Kansas, combined with floods in neighbouring southern states, has led to a serious deficit in hay, in a big cattle-producing area. I wouldn’t normally expect domestic prices to compete with those offered by exporters, but this year they are bucking the trend.

Seth Pascoe is assistant manager on North Paddock Farms, at Taber, southern Alberta, Canada. Crops on the 1,800 acres of irrigated sandy-loam include potatoes for McCain Foods, durum and soft wheat, GM oilseed rape for seed and timothy for hay.

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