“The pump has been primed” for Manitoba hay to flow into the Midwest, where hay supplies have been short due to winterkill, says Glenn Friesen, forage specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

All the more reason he’s urging province producers to lock in winter forage supplies early.

“Opportunistic brokers are making cold calls to the farms here in Manitoba, just getting their names out and (offering to) handle the paperwork and logistics. So it’s just a matter of waiting for the price to be right and the hay to be put up, and we’ll see more of it moved down south this year,” believes Friesen, pictured below.

Dairy-quality hay prices could be in the $200/ton range, plus transportation costs, some producer/exporters have told the forage specialist. Beef producers “are stocking up and not selling much” hay, haying extra land when they can and culling cattle to make sure they have feed available. “Others are penciling higher hay prices into their budgets.”

Hay movement from the province to the U.S. has doubled or tripled in recent years, Friesen says. That’s in part due to U.S. forage shortages and an easing of Department of Transportation regulations on transferring round bales.

The province contended with an extended winter this past year that kept growers from fields and cattle on fed forage for longer than usual. “But it’s bounced back; we’ve had a lot of heat.” First-cut, dairy-quality alfalfa yields were average. Friesen thinks alfalfa growers who are used to four cuttings will get three this year.

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Beef producers have struggled putting up alfalfa-grass hay, he adds. “We’ve had a fair amount of rain, so the swaths lay longer in the field. Now I'm getting calls on how to handle mold in the swaths. The beef yields look fantastic but we’ve been unable to get it off in decent quality.” Only half of first-cut harvest has been taken off.

Wild grasslands consisting of reed canarygrass, quackgrass or smooth bromegrass are being managed differently for beef-quality hay as well. “We’ve seen fertilizer spreaders out there trying to bump up the yields of these native or wild areas,” Friesen says.

Buyers interested in Manitoba hay should make the Manitoba Forage Marketers, a group of hay growers, their first point of contact, he says. Visit www.manitobaforage.ca. For more on the marketing group, read Hay & Forage Grower’s story, Teaming Up To Market Hay.

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