Quality Alfalfa Requires Good Fertility

Alfalfa remains one of the country’s major forage crops, despite having a rough go of it in recent years. In 2012, harvested area of alfalfa hay in the United States fell to about 17.3 million acres, the lowest since 1942 according to government statistics. The effects of drought and high grain prices were mostly to blame. But since then harvested area has clicked up by almost a million acres (NASS Quick Stats, Oct. 2014).

There are many factors that affect alfalfa yield and quality, whether it is for hay, silage or pasture. Some of these factors, like rainfall and temperature, are uncontrollable; however, other factors are to some degree controllable, and can be carefully managed. For example, alfalfa is relatively sensitive to soil acidity, and does best in soil pH range of 6.5 to 7.5. The bacteria that fix atmospheric nitrogen for alfalfa do best in this soil pH range. Soil acidity issues can be corrected with liming, and should be addressed before planting. Crop nutrition and the provision for an adequate supply of nutrients is another of the controllable and critical factors in the production of quality alfalfa.

In most areas alfalfa begins growth in the early spring and continues into the late fall, resulting in a continuous nutrient demand on the soil for several months. While the figures can be quite variable, data pub- lished in IPNI’s 4R Plant Nutrition Manual indicates that alfalfa hay removes about 51 lb N, 12 lb P2O5, 49 lb K2O, and 5 lb of S per ton of production. Rhizobium bacteria on well-nodulated alfalfa can fix enough nitrogen (N) to meet crop needs, although a newly planted crop may require some N fertilizer (15 to 20 lb N/A) until nodulation occurs. On the other hand, soil supplies of phosphorus (P), potassium (K), and other nutrients can be rapidly depleted from alfalfa fields if not replaced by fertilization.

Phosphorus performs several vital functions in alfalfa plants. It can impact stand establishment by encour- aging root growth, and adequate P has been shown to support higher nodule numbers and nodule health essential for protein production. Plant regrowth and recovery after cutting is more rapid with adequate P, compared with deficient P conditions. It is well known that movement of P in soils is limited, so it’s usually recommended to apply as much of the crop’s anticipated need as reasonable through preplant incorporated application.

Alfalfa takes up and removes large amounts of potassium, in fact more is removed by alfalfa than any other soil nutrient. Alfalfa forage may contain 2 to 3% K. Potassium has many critical roles in plant growth and de- velopment. It has long been recognized as a factor affecting disease incidence, and has an important role in enhanc- ing nitrogen fixation. Adequate K also helps to improve stand persistence and winter survival. Sulfur (S) deficiency in alfalfa results in reduced yield, crude protein content, and feed value. It is most likely to occur in high rainfall areas, sandy soils, and under irrigation where the concentration of dissolved S in irriga- tion water is low. Input of other nutrients such as zinc and boron may be needed in some cases.

Alfalfa provides excellent forage, and stands can remain productive for years with proper care and nutrition. When considering fertilizer inputs remember that not all yield and quality compromising deficiencies are visible to the naked eye. To help make the best fertilization decisions for specific circumstances use tools such as soil testing, plant analyses, local information, and nutrient input and removal history.

For more information, contact Dr. W.M. (Mike) Stewart, IPNI Director, North American Program, Ph: 210-764-1588. E-mail:
Note: Plant Nutrition TODAY articles are available online at the IPNI website:



BC Forage Council

Forage a huge, underappreciated part of agriculture

Rural Revival By: Laura Rance
Posted: 12/6/2014

If you asked a room full of people -- farmers included -- to name Canada's largest crop, chances are you would get a debate going over whether it is wheat or canola.

And they would both be wrong.

Canada's largest crop, occupying 39 per cent of the farmable land, is forage -- hay and pasture to feed livestock. Wheat and canola are the two most valuable crops farmers produce, but with $5.1 billion of economic activity generated, forage comes in a solid third -- well ahead of corn.

However, despite its sizeable footprint and contribution to the Canadian economy, forage gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to allocating funds for research and development.

It's partly because it does its best work behind the scenes. You could say for every successful cattle farmer in Canada there's a good stand of hay.

And while most people recognize it plays an important role, it gets taken for granted, similar to how society treats a stay-at-home mom. Everyone knows she's doing an important job -- and yet people keep asking her when she's going back to work.

Likewise for forage lands, which are often referred to as "unimproved" or "undeveloped." Those terms ignore the valuable roles those lands play -- economically, by supporting livestock production as well as environmentally by reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, maintaining wildlife habitat and adding to biological diversity.

But it's also because there are no easy way to raise funds for forage research. The structure of the industry is such that a checkoff won't work, because most of the production is never sold through commercial channels. It is either fed on farm or sold producer to producer. Historically, research into improved varieties has been done by the public sector, but government support for that research has been waning since the 1990s.

A 2007 analysis shows publicly funded forage research had declined by $44 million annually during the previous 15 years. That lack of research into new and improved varieties has resulted in forage yields that are stagnant or declining.

So four years ago, the forage seed, grass and hay producers in Canada banded together under the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association to increase the sector's profile and generate more interest in supporting research.

As 80 per cent of Canada's beef production relies on forage as a main feed source, it seems logical cattle producers would be onside. Of the $5.1 billion of economic activity forage contributes to the Canadian economy, it is estimated 53 per cent is captured directly by beef producers.

Yet the Canadian Cattlemen's Association this year declined to continue with the $20,000 contribution it has given the CFGA over the past three years, citing limited budgets. The CCA noted it still provides support for forage through the Beef Cattle Research Council, which is a national industry-led funding agency for beef research.

The CFGA is vowing to soldier on on a much-diminished budget, but its ability to function, let alone attract research dollars, has been compromised. And it has become painfully obvious in recent times that without a national voice, support for forage research will continue to decline in this country.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association decision is hard to rationalize relative to other places the organization has been spending producer checkoff funds lately. So far it's spent $3.25 million on legal fees to challenge the U.S. country-of-origin labelling (COOL) legislation, combined with another $3 million put into lobbying efforts.

Five years into the battle, cattle producers have little to show for these efforts, and there is no end in sight. Last week, the U.S. announced it would be appeal the latest World Trade Organization ruling in Canada's favour.

The CCA's own data show the return on investment on funds used to finance research is 46 to one. Maybe the COOL fight has to continue, but diverting just a few of the dollars now spent on legal fees might provide a better bang for the buck.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email:
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2014 B9


BCFC Looking for Producer Participants for Forage Project in Vanderhoof area

The BCFC has successfully secured funding for a new project: "Demonstrating innovative forage production practices to increase climate change adaptation".

We have hired Agrowest Consulting out of Kamloops to complete this project. Dr. Catherine Tarasoff will be the project lead. She has a PhD in Crop Science and Range Ecology from Oregon State University. She will be working with by Dr. Tom Pypker who has experience with weather stations and hydrology.

At this stage, the BCFC is looking for producers who are willing to participate in research to assess innovative farm practices for adapting to climate change and weather related production risks, and to identify new and adaptive management practices. The project will involve the development of tools to support on-farm trials, several farm-scale demonstration sites where the producers complete trials over two summers (2015 and 2016) with the project providing research development support, access to research equipment, lab analyses, and local climate data. (Project Summary is attached.)

The final outcome of this project will be a Workbook and Manual: "How to Conduct Your Own Farm-Scale Research Projects", educational opportunities for area producers through field days and a workshop and increased farm related weather information for the area.

Examples of potential trials (each site will develop their own project)

  • Determine variation in maturity rates of different alfalfa, timothy, oat varieties
  • Investigate Rhizobium spp. issues potentially related to soil temperature, acidity, and soil nutrient relationships
  • Determine the effects of soil acidity and lime application on production, and yield relationships – economics
  • Evaluate Growing Degree Day (GDD) and other methods to predict plant growth stages, and plan harvest to maximize quality, yield and winter hardiness
  • Evaluate various harvest operations, equipment and timing and effects on quality
  • Determine how to bring low fertility areas into full production
  • Evaluate effectiveness of delaying first cut harvest

We are currently looking for producers willing to participate in this farm-scale demonstration project.

Participant requirements:

  • located in forage producing areas in and around Vanderhoof , and located within one of the 5 major micro-climates areas of the region
  • willing to work with the Consultant and Producer Advisory Committee to develop an interesting project on your own land
  • willing to keep detailed records as required by the Consultant willing to host and maintain a weather station on or near your operation willing to provide feedback to the consultant on the draft Manual and Workbook willing to participate from December 2014 until Spring 2017
  • willing to host field days at the research site on your land; the project team will support the organization and delivery of the events

If you are located within the VANDERHOOF area and are interested in participating in this project, please contact BCFC. WE ARE ALSO LOOKING FOR PRODUCERS to form an Advisory Committee to provide overall project oversight, to review the development of the Manual and Workbook, and to act as a source of information for the Consultant.

BC Forage Council
Cell: 250-267-6522 

Demonstrating innovative forage production practices to increase climate change adaptation - Project Summary 2014



While several forage yield evaluations have been conducted in the Central Interior of BC, there has been little information gathered on forage quality and quality/weather related factors. In light of anticipated changes in growing conditions and emerging market opportunities, research is required to assess innovative farm practices for adapting to climate change impacts and weather related production risks, and to identify new and adaptive management practices.

A recent 2013 study by the BC Forage Council (BCFC), “Forage Production and Export Potential in BC’s Central Interior”, confirmed opportunities to expand the export forage market and identified existing limitations. One such limitation is that in the Central Interior, the ability to produce a suitable volume of export grade forage is limited by variable weather conditions during the harvest windows.

Although standardized variety tests are extremely useful and provide valid data, conditions on each farm can be different than the test area, fields within each farm can also be variable, as can areas within a field. On-farm research is necessary to test and validate production methods and species in terms of: suitability, profitability or ability to meet desired markets in a variable climate. As well, on-farm research allows farmers to vastly enhance their knowledge of their own forage production systems, improve information resources and increase capacity within the agricultural community to support adaptation of innovative practices and technologies.

The BCFC is starting a forage project that will assist in the development of on-farm adaptations focused on producing high quality forage under a variety of weather conditions. Through the development of a weather station network within the production area, the evaluation of production techniques using on-farm trials, and the creation of a manual for conducting on-farm trials, this project seeks to increase the information and management options available to producers as well as provide for the long-term ability to respond to changes in growing conditions.

With the establishment of several weather stations, this project will also result in weather information from currently under-represented geographies being made available to those involved in climate change adaptation.



  • Improve individual producers’ long-term ability to conduct their own on-farm trials to test adaptive production methods through the development, testing, and refinement of a “How To” Manual and an accompanying workbook, that once complete will be available to producers throughout the province.
  • The forage research manual will instruct farmers on topics such as: choosing sites, site preparation, setting up protocols, sampling procedures, data collecting, etc. This project will empower farmers to improve their operations individually and collectively, and will encourage farmers to co-operate and share information, especially as government steps away from these activities.


  • Increase access to regional weather and climate information to track weather variability, assess production and harvest windows, and increase potential for long term climate adaptation through the establishment and maintenance of permanent weather stations in the region that will persist beyond the timeframe of the project.
  • Increase producer knowledge and capacity to make use of local weather data and related decision tools (e.g. Growing Degree Day (GDD)) in production related decisions.


  • On-farm forage demonstration plots will be established based on industry-driven questions. These will be operational farm-scale plots, where size will be a function of factors such as available area, equipment and number of questions. These plots will differ from typical research plots in that they will be operational in size and will not necessarily involve multiple replicated sites.
  • Explore potential to cost effectively meet export market specifications for forages through the evaluation, demonstration, economic analysis, and promotion of production practices which incorporate and/or respond to variable weather conditions.
  • Improve the capacity for future market development and production practice evaluation through the provision of forage quality assessment tools.


  • Funding has been provided through the BC Farm Adaptation Innovator Program, a Growing Forward 2 initiative; the Omineca Beetle Action Coalition; and the Nechako Kitimaat Development Fund Society.
  • In-kind support, production data and knowledge, and communication links to local producers will be provided from members of the agriculture industry in the project area including: Glen Dale Agra Service and Tophay Agri-Industries.
  • In-kind support including substantial time investments from forage producers who will not only be participating in the advisory committee and maintaining the various demonstration sites but who will also play a critical role in the collection of samples and data and in providing feedback on the efficacy, practicality and clarity of the Manual and Workbook. This type of participation has the added value of not only contributing to the project’s success but also building local capacity for future on-farm trials.
  • Scientific support and technical information will be provided by: Dr. S. Bittman and D. Hunt (AAFC), Dr. T. Jensen (International Plant Nutrition Institute), and Dr. B. McGill (University of Northern BC).
  • In-kind support from the BC Ministry of Agriculture, primarily in staff time and travel, will support multiple aspects of the project including technical information, participation in advisory committee, access to various contacts, facilitation and coordination support as required.
  • The BCFC will be providing project management, project administration, input during development of project deliverables, initiating the producer advisory committee, and general project oversight. 


.... coming ...

BCFC Hires Project Consultant 2014

BC Forage Council hires Agrowest Consulting - The BC Forage Council has initiated a project entitled: “Demonstrating innovative forage production practices to increase climate change adaptation”. This 2 ½ year project will use farm-scale forage demonstration sites to increase producer adaptive capacity to overcome limitations from adverse growing conditions and to maximize economic returns.

Bio Energy Crops

Crops - The Foundation for a Renewable Future (May 2006)

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Bio-industrial products are renewable, have a measurable ecological footprint, and use safer and less toxic refining processes. These feedstocks and crops come from reliable sources - Alberta farms. Bio-based products will help replace or complement petroleum-based products in the market place, a sensible approach to help sustain Alberta's resource base.

"Bio-industrial products are developed from crops using conventional breeding and molecular technologies," says Don Salmon, plant breeder with Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development's crop development - non-food branch, Lacombe. "These products include modified oils, bioplastics, enhanced biofibers, biochemicals and biodiesel. In the industry, these are known as renewable energy, enviro-materials and enviro-products."

Salmon, along with his triticale team, has released two new triticale varieties to two independent organizations. These varieties will be targeted to the ethanol market in addition to feed and fodder markets. The varieties that can be grown across the prairies have a 15 to 20 per cent higher yield than wheat. They are also disease resistant.

"It is anticipated that crops such as triticale will be the platform for further improvements, following on the success of input traits, such as herbicide resistance, and abiotic stress resistance, such as drought tolerance," says Christine Murray, branch head, crop development - non-food, Alberta Agriculture, Edmonton.

To optimize the efficient production of bio-products, including research, development and regulation cost, crops are being developed as platform technologies - single species used to produce a range of products. Just as canola has been a platform for the production of edible oils, meal and biolubricants, these crop platforms will support a range of valuable products. The choice of crop platforms encompasses climatic suitability, agronomic system compatibility, biosafety risk and exclusivity. Flax and triticale are suitable crops in Western Canada as the oil and starch based crop platforms.

"Interdisciplinary research is required to build crop platforms, from the selection, transfer and optimization of transgenic traits for bio-product production, to agronomy, bio-safety risk assessment, breeding, biochemistry, and basic biotechnology and genomics," says Salmon. "Product utilization and processing is an integral part of this program and research objectives must be driven by market demands for products, in cooperation with industrial partners. Coordinated, multi-disciplinary research needs to be conducted in parallel, rather than sequentially, if we are going to be internationally competitive in bringing these crop products to market in a timely fashion."

The advances made already by the triticale team are just some of the first successes in developing the new varieties that will lead us into a sustainable, renewable resource-based future.

Don Salmon (403) 782-8694
Christine Murray (780) 644-1986

Source: Alberta Agriculture

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Brassica Crops

Brassicas to Extend the Grazing Season

Prepared by Marvin H. Hall, professor of forage management, and Jerry Jung, adjunct professor of agronomy.  Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences research and extension 

Use of Brassica Crops to Extend the Grazing Season

Cool-season perennial grass and grass-legume pastures typically become less productive as the grazing season advances from June to November. Forage brassica crops such as turnip, swede, rape, and kale can be spring-seeded to supplement the perennial cool-season pastures in August and September or summer-seeded to extend the grazing season in November and December. Brassicas are annual crops that are highly productive and digestible and can be grazed 80 to 150 days after seeding, depending on the species (see table on back page). In addition, crude protein levels are high, varying from 15 to 25 percent in the herbage and 8 to 15 percent in the roots, depending on the level of nitrogen fertilization and weather conditions.

Species and varieties

Kale (Brassica oleracea L.)

Varieties of kale differ markedly in winter hardiness, rate of establishment, stem development, and time required to reach maturity. The stemless type of kale (e.g. ‘Premier’) has a faster rate of establishment than varieties that produce stems. Crop height of the stemless type is approximately 25 inches, whereas that of narrow stem kale is 60 inches with primary stems often 2 inches in diameter. Stemless kale attains maturity in approximately 90 days, allowing two crops per year, whereas varieties that develop stems require 150 to 180 days to attain maximum production. ‘Premier’ has consistently survived winters in central Pennsylvania, whereas other varieties of kale usually are winter-killed in December.

Rape (Brassica napus L.)

Mature forage rape is one of the best crops available for fattening lambs and flushing ewes. Rape is a multi-stemmed crop with fibrous roots. The stems vary in length, diameter, and in palatability to livestock. Forage yields of spring- planted rape increase until plants become physiologically mature. Growth slows or ceases at maturity and yields plateau until leaves senesce and die. Varieties differ in when this occurs; however, ‘Rangi’ rape retains its leaves longer than most varieties. Generally, yields of rape varieties in Pennsylvania are maximized with two 90-day growth periods. However, performance of ‘Emerald’ and ‘Winfred’ rape varieties is best with one 180-day growth period, and yields of rape hybrids are greatest with 60 days of growth before the first harvest and a 30-day growth period before the second harvest.

Swede (Brassica napus L.)
Like turnip, swede produces a large edible root. Swede yields are higher than those of turnip, although growth is slower and requires 150 to 180 days to reach maximum production. Swede usually produces a short stem (neck), but can have stems 2 1⁄2 feet long when grown with tall crops that shade the swede. Unfortunately, stem elongation is at the expense of root development. The variety ‘Calder’ is cold hardy in central Pennsylvania and thus ideal for stockpiling and for late fall or early winter grazing. In general, all swede varieties are recommended for late fall grazing.

turnip (Brassica rapa L.) or turnip Hybrids

These crops grow very fast, reaching near maximum production levels in 80 to 90 days. Studies in southwestern Pennsylvania showed that turnip can accumulate dry matter in October as fast as field corn does in August. Growing “out of season” (October/November) makes turnip a valuable crop for late fall grazing.

The proportion of tops and roots varies markedly depending on variety, crop age, and planting date. Research by the USDA Pasture Laboratory showed that turnip crops can vary from 90 percent tops/10 percent roots to 15 per- cent tops/85 percent roots. Some hybrids have fibrous roots that will not be readily grazed by livestock. All varieties produce primarily tops during the first 45 days of growth. Sixty to 90 days after seeding, turnip varieties such as ‘Savannah’ and ‘All Top’ continue to produce a high pro- portion of tops. During the same period, other turnip varieties have nearly equal top and root production, except ‘Purple Top’ has a greater root than top production. The significance in the proportion of tops and roots is that the crude protein concentration (8 to 10 percent) of roots is approximately one-half of that in turnip tops. Therefore, greater root production tends to reduce the crude protein yield of the total crop. On the other hand, stockpiled tops appear to be more vulnerable to weather and pest damage than roots. Varieties differ in their resistance to diseases, but this often is not evident until the crop is more than 80 days of age and the plants are reaching full production.

Other Forage Brassicas

Several hybrids of brassica species are also used as forage crops; however, there is limited research information on the production and management of these hybrids. The more common hybrids include a cross between Chinese cabbage (Brassica campesteris sensulato L.) and rape (‘Perko’), tur- nip (‘Tyfon’ and ‘Buko’), and swede (‘Wairangi’).



All brassica crops require good soil drainage and a soil pH between 5.3 and 6.8 for optimum production. Good stands can be established by planting 3.5 to 4 pounds per acre of kale or rape, or 1.5 to 2 pounds per acre of swede or turnip. The higher seeding rates are recommended for spring plantings. The seeds should be planted in rows 6 to 8 inches apart and not more than one-half inch deep. However, brassica seed can also be broadcast and incorporated into tilled seedbeds by cultipacking. When preparing a tilled seedbed for brassica planting, plow the ground several weeks before planting to allow weed seeds to germinate before secondary tillage is completed to form a firm and fine seedbed that is free of weeds. In addition, the preplant incorporated herbicide Treflan (trifluralin) is labeled at 0.5 to 1.0 pint active ingredient per acre for control of annual grass and small- seeded broadleaf weeds in brassicas.

Brassica stands can also be established by no-till planting in grass sod that is suppressed with paraquat or glyphosate herbicides. Read pesticide labels and precautions before using either of these herbicides. Ideally, the grass sod should be grazed through June with the grazing prior to brassica seeding being very close. Approximately two weeks before planting the herbicide should be applied to the grass sod. Another option for no-till establishment would be to apply
a manure slurry to the sod, burn the sod back, and then no- till plant the brassica seeds through the slurry. In addition to reduced erosion concerns with no-till planting, there are generally fewer insect problems than with conventionally seeded brassicas. The following recommendations will improve the chances of successful brassica establishment.

1. Attempt establishment only on well drained soils.

2. Do not seed deeper than one-half inch.

3. When seeding into a sod, suppress the sod long enough to allow the brassicas to establish (two to three weeks).

4. Apply 75 pounds of nitrogen at seeding to stimulate establishment and growth.

As previously mentioned, forage brassicas can be grown to supplement perennial cool-season pastures in August and September or to extend the grazing season in November and December. In the first instance, brassicas would be planted in May or early June because spring rains will help ensure production for August and September grazing (Figure 1). Turnip, rape, or stemless kale could be used for this purpose. In the second instance, swede or kale would be planted in spring, or rape, turnip, and turnip hybrids would be planted in late July or early August, and growth allowed to accumulate until November or December.

CLICK HERE to read the entire PDF.




Double Cropping Fall Rye for Extra Forage

by Joel Bagg, Forage Specialist & Peter Johnson, Cereals Specialist, OMAF and MRA

Fall rye is an excellent forage crop when seeded after early-fall harvested crops. It is ready for harvest in southern Ontario in mid-May, which provides great opportunities for “double crop” options, and can also fill in the gap in years when forage supplies are short. Seed as early as possible in September, apply nitrogen in the spring, and time harvest for nutrient quality needs. Do not confuse cereal rye (Secale cereale) with ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum or L. perenne), as they are totally different grass species with quite different characteristics.

Fall rye prevents erosion and gives good weed suppression. Rye is very cold tolerant, the hardiest and most disease resistant of the winter cereals. Fall rye has an extensive fibrous root system, can scavenge nitrogen very effectively, and utilizes early spring moisture for rapid growth.

Fall rye is faster growing and earlier maturing in the spring than the other winter cereals, including wheat, barley and triticale. This enables an earlier forage harvest and more “double crop” options. Fall rye grows well on lighter and low pH soils, but does not do well on poorly drained, heavier soils. Forage rye is higher yielding, but not as palatable as winter wheat. Rye matures rapidly at the flag-leaf, boot and early-heading stages, with significant reductions in forage quality. This can create the challenge of a very narrow harvest window, particularly if there are rain delays.

Double Crop Options

Farmers looking for extra forage can plant fall rye following the harvest of many crops, particularly corn silage. Forage rye harvested in mid-May can be followed by a late-planted crop, such as soybeans, edible beans, or a warm-season annual forage crop such as sorghum. Winter wheat heads two weeks later than fall rye making forage wheat harvest too late to be followed by corn or soybeans. In dry years, decreased moisture in the soil profile following forage rye can have a negative effect on the yield of the following crop. It is essential to completely kill the rye with glyphosate or tillage to minimize shading and competition for moisture.

Rye is sometimes noted for having an “alleopathic effect” that suppresses the germination and growth of weeds and other crops. With most of the rye plant removed, alleopathy is a low risk in forage situations. The possible exception is with no-till corn on heavier soil types.


Fall rye is easy to establish and can be seeded from late-summer to late-fall. If harvest as silage the following May is planned, fall rye should be seeded in September, but later seedings can work. Early planting allows more time for tillering, higher forage yields, and slightly earlier forage harvest dates. Some growth going into winter is preferred for early spring growth and good yields. Seed is relatively inexpensive. Under good conditions, fall rye can be seeded at 110 kg/ha (100 lbs/ac), but the seeding rate can be increased up to 190 kg/ha (168 lbs/ac, 3 bu/ac) if the seed is broadcast rather than drilled, or if the seeding date is late.


Fall rye is best used to provide early-spring grazing, but can also be grazed into late-fall. It is ready to graze early in the spring and growth is very rapid. To ensure that it does not get too mature, be prepared to move livestock frequently by strip grazing. Grazing rye on wet heavy clay soils in late-fall or early-spring is not recommended due to livestock “pugging” and compaction. If fall pasture is desired, fall rye should be seeded by August 15-30th. 

Read entire article here

Forage Chicory

Forage chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) is a perennial plant that is suited to well-drained or moderately drained soils with medium- to high-fertility levels and a pH of 5.5 or greater. Chicory produces leafy growth that is higher in nutritive and mineral content (if managed properly) than is produced by alfalfa or cool season grasses. It has a relatively deep taproot that provides for tolerance to drought conditions.

Chicory provides both spring and summer forage with average growth rates from April through October of 50 pounds per acre per day. During peak growth periods chicory produces 73 pounds per acre per day. Chicory is a relatively new forage crop in the United States but has been used in other countries for more than 300 years. Although it originated in central Europe, much of the breeding for improved forage characteristics has been completed in New Zealand.

Forage chicory is a low-growing rosette plant with broad leaves in the winter, very much like dandelion. With warm temperatures in the spring it produces large numbers of leaves from the crown. In late spring, after the establishment year, a few flower stems begin to develop from the crown and will reach heights of 6 feet if ungrazed. The thick taproot of chicory can be exposed and damaged by overgrazing, excessive hoof traffic, and frost heaving.

Link to complete pdf document.

Italian Ryegrass

Italian ryegrass can produce very high quality, leafy, palatable forage suitable for high producing dairy cows. As a cool-season bunch grass, it is best adapted to cool, moist conditions. It does not grow as well in hot, dry summer weather. In Ontario it has been seeded in early spring (April, early-May) for harvesting that year. More recently, it has been seeded in August for harvest in late-fall and then again during the following year. This can provide an excellent double-crop option, but the risk of winterkill must be managed.

Italian ryegrass is noted for its high fibre digestibility (NDFD), high relative forage quality (RFQ), palatability, ease of establishment, and its yield response to nitrogen. Ryegrass is characterized by a glossy appearance of the underside of the leaves. Do not confuse cereal rye (Secale cereale) with ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum or L. perenne), as they are totally different grass species with distinctly different characteristics.

Read complete article here.


New Forage Cultivars Tailored for BC Production (2003)

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Surya N. Acharya
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, AB

Traditional forages


Alfalfa (M. sativa L.) is the most widely used forage legume in western Canada. This crop occupies approximately 2.6M ha in this region due to its wide adaptation. It establishes quickly and easily, produces high forage yield and if harvested at an appropriate stage the forage is of high quality. For these reasons, alfalfa is often referred to as the 'Queen' of forages. However, this crop has some weaknesses. This crop can cause bloat in ruminants, available cultivars cannot survive in mixed stands for very long and have no tolerance for acid soils. Most cultivars are prone to verticillium wilt caused by Verticillium albo-atrum. This is a serious disease of alfalfa in Alberta and BC in areas with high moisture. In interior BC, alfalfa faces two major challenges for optimal growth. They are plant diseases and acid soils.

Two cultivars AC Blue J and AC Longview with high levels of resistance to verticillium and bacterial wilt and high yield were released in the past six years to counteract the disease problem. Seeds for these cultivar are readily available in the market. These cultivars will not only produce higher yield each year, but also, they will live longer and produce weed free high quality hay. However, these cultivars are not suitable for low pH soils.

Vast tracts of land in the Prince George area are quite low in pH, and most alfalfa varieties in Canada are not suitable for these acidic soil conditions. We now have a new alfalfa cultivar under testing in the region that looks very promising. The new cultivar is the result of a careful breeding strategy. We collected stem cuttings from surviving plants from some old pastures and hay stands in the area - with the idea that they have some acid-tolerance - and intercrossed these selections. We were able to come up with a new alfalfa synthetic that shows good tolerance and produces high forage yield. If all goes well, this synthetic could be released to a seed company in the fall of 2004 for multiplication. Seed for commercial production of the acid tolerant cultivar with adaptation for interior BC will probably be available in 2006.

Cicer milkvetch

Cicer milkvetch is a long lived, rhizomatous high quality forage legume. It is well adapted to western Canada, is productive and long lived and unlike alfalfa, does not cause bloat when grazed by ruminants. However, cicer milkvetch is not used to its potential in western Canada pastures. Cicer milkvetch seeds have a high level of slow germinating hard seeds and the seedlings grow much slower than most other forage crops. This crop requires special care at establishment to obtain a vigorous forage stand.

The impermeable hard seed coat does not allow the seed to take in water under favorable germination conditions. Hard seededness is a type of dormancy that ensures species survival by maintaining long-term viability and distributing seed germination over a long period. Hard seeds, however, pose a major agricultural problem where quick and uniform stand establishment is the goal. Quick and uniform establishment also requires rapid growth at seedling stage. Unfortunately, seedlings of cicer milkvetch grow slow compared to most forage crops.

Research at Lethbridge Research Centre has focussed on improving this important forage crop. Through repeated cycles of selection for improved seedling vigour genetically superior lines have been produced that emerge faster, grow rapidly at the seedling stage and produce greater amounts of forage. Using these selections we have developed AC Oxley II that can produce almost 200 % of Oxley biomass in the establishment year. Although AC Oxley II seedlings have the ability to grow rapidly after germination a high proportion of the seeds have a hard coat. Therefore, for proper establishment the seeds need to be scarified properly prior to seeding.

For assured establishment and high level of forage production, scarified cicer seeds need to be seeded into a firm and weed free seed bed at shallow depth. Use of proper inoculant and fertilizer has shown positive effects on cicer milkvetch establishment and subsequent performance. While establishing a mixed stand, cicer milkvetch has benefited from a mowing when fast growing companion crops may shade the crawling seedlings and adversely affect their growth. Unlike alfalfa, cicer component in a mixture increases over the years, especially in stands that are grazed.

Now producers have a more productive cicer cultivar AC Oxley II. Seed for this cultivar is now available for commercial production. This new cultivar, released in 2001, has performed well in trials conducted in interior BC. Another new synthetic LRC94-1 is out performing all other entries in BC trials. This new synthetic may be ready for release in 2005.


Orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata) is known for producing high quality forage and under BC conditions can produce high forage yield. It responds well to irrigation and has shown tolerance to heavy manure applications. Orchardgrass is the main feed for dairy cows in much of central BC. However, it is prone to winter injury when grown in the Canadian prairies or interior BC.

New lines of orchardgrass - represent further potential for forage producers. We have developed several lines of this forage with improved winterhardiness and resistance to the cocksfoot mottle virus. Winterhardiness is important for farmers in the BC interior, while lines with resistance to cocksfoot mottle virus are needed in the coastal areas where this disease is more prevalent. Using an indoor screening method, we have developed several winterhardy synthetic populations that have produced higher forage yield than the check cultivars in BC interior. The highest yielding synthetic will be released for multiplication and distribution in 2004. Producers are advised to look for "Adanac" orchardgrass in near future.

In collaboration with Dr. Shabtai Bittmen of Agassize, BC, we have developed nine orchardgrass populations with resistance to the cocksfoot mottle virus. These populations are now being tested in coastal BC. If all goes well, the best performing synthetics will be released for commercial production in 2005.

Non-Traditional forages


Perennial Cereal Rye (PC rye)

Lower feed costs, good persistence, beats barley as silage, and solid performance against weeds are sure to attract producers to Canada's first perennial cereal (PC) rye cultivar ACE-1. A population developed in Germany by crossing Secale cereale (rye) and Secale montananum (grass) was used as source material. The original population did not have the winter hardiness required for the prairies so we made selections within the population to produce a suitable cultivar that would survive western Canada winters. ACE-1 is the resulting cultivar and has survived for four years in southern Alberta.

This perennial will only be seeded once every three to four years, unlike barley or wheat, which would mean a substantial savings for producers. This also means that throughout winter, the live roots will prevent soils from wind and water erosion. This cultivar grows early in spring and so will utilize spring moisture better than annual crops. It has produced two cuts per year under normal growing conditions.

ACE-1 produces best if seeded in the fall. It is as early as crested wheatgrass. It can be seeded in the spring, but the crop will stay vegetative and will not produce seed head during the summer of establishment year. ACE-1 should be seeded using seven inch row spacing on moist or irrigated areas and 14 inches on dryland. Use 100 pounds of seed per acre and 75 pounds of nitrogen per acre for optimum performance. The yield potential from the first cut is about the same as you would expect from barley silage. In most cases it can produce a second crop of another 40-50 % of the first cut biomass. The quality of silage is comparable to that of barley.

The cultivar is very competitive, doesn't require much herbicide and grows very rapidly at establishment. Tests indicate that ACE-1 fits well in common herbicide systems. In a three-year study, weeds made up 20-36 per cent of total ACE-1 dry matter, when herbicide was not applied during the crop's vegetative state. These results are particularly good considering the weed content of seedling alfalfa under the same test hit 80 per cent. In the year after establishment, ACE-1 was essentially weed-free without having to use herbicides. The variety was not harmed by herbicides used to control wild oat, green foxtail and broadleaf weeds.

So far we have noticed only one problem with ergot and that's why it is not being grown for human consumption, but rather for silage and grazing at early stages of plant growth.

As a dry land crop, ACE-1 produces extremely well and that amount doubles if the land is irrigated.

In BC, ACE-1 was only tested in Creston where it has done well for two years now. We will collect germplasm from the Creston stand after three years to develop a new cultivar with adaptation to interior BC conditions. More research on this crop is needed to determine how widely it will be adapted and how it will be utilized by different types of animal systems.


Fenugreek is an annual legume presently grown as a dryland crop for it=s seed. Fenugreek seed is used as a condiment, flavouring agent and for pharmaceutical purposes. In the year it's seeded, fenugreek produces almost as much forage as a mature stand of alfalfa. The crop yields 3 to 4 tons of dry matter per acre on dryland and twice that under irrigation. In collaboration with animal nutritionists we have found that fenugreek forage is very similar in quality to alfalfa, with crude protein levels around 18 to 20 percent. In preliminary grazing trials fenugreek did not cause bloat in ruminants.

Fenugreek has an advantage over alfalfa: it maintains its quality all through the summer. Instead of taking multiple cuts to ensure good yield and high quality forage, you can cut fenugreek once, late in the year and get a full high quality forage harvest. Fenugreek is probably better suited to silage making than haying, because harvesting a full forage crop in a single cut results in a heavy swath that takes a long time to dry, especially late in the summer.

Dr. Zahir Mir found that silage made from mature fenugreek was eaten about 15% less than alfalfa. However, animal gains were similar to those on prime cut alfalfa. The plant contains growth promoting substances and these natural substances may increase muscle growth in animals fed fenugreek. It is extremely palatable for rabbits and so for small plot trials rabbits can become a pest. However, fenugreek has no known insect pests or diseases excepting showing susceptibility to powdery mildew in late fall.

Fenugreek is expected to make excellent hay cubes without addition of a binding agent. It contains a gummy substance which can be used as a binding agent for making alfalfa or other cubes. The intense aroma of fenugreek survives passage through the animal and may taint milk. However, this nature may be useful in reducing manure odors, especially from cattle, poultry and hog operations.

Growing fenugreek is similar to growing other legumes. As it is an annual crop, the seed should be inoculated, seeded as early in spring as possible with a little nitrogen and fairly high phosphorus. The crop is drought tolerant, but it produces better under irrigation. The following crop in the rotation gains from the nitrogen fixed by the fenugreek. These considerations may make fenugreek particularly attractive to farmers growing annual crops who wish to include a high value forage in a short rotation.

A forage type fenugreek cultivar adapted to western Canada is expected to be released for multiplication and distribution in 2003 fall. Producers are advised to look for 'Tristar' fenugreek in near future. This cultivar needs to be tested in interior BC before it can be recommended for commercial production in the region.

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Check Your Orchardgrass Fields For Virus Now (2001) - Over the past few weeks we have received several reports of cocksfoot mottle virus (CMV) appearing in orchardgrass fields in the Fraser Valley. This disease is not new to the region, but more people are beginning to notice it. Late March to early April is the best time to detect this disease in your fields.

Rust Alert (2000) - We have had two recent reports that stripe rust has arrived in the Fraser Valley. Farmers should monitor their orchardgrass fields and take action if they find that their crops are infected.

Check Your Orchardgrass Fields For Virus Now (2001)

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Check Your Orchardgrass Fields For Virus Now (2001) - Over the past few weeks we have received several reports of cocksfoot mottle virus (CMV) appearing in orchardgrass fields in the Fraser Valley. This disease is not new to the region, but more people are beginning to notice it. Late March to early April is the best time to detect this disease in your fields.

Rust Alert (2000) - We have had two recent reports that stripe rust has arrived in the Fraser Valley. Farmers should monitor their orchardgrass fields and take action if they find that their crops are infected.

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Cocksfoot Mottle Virus (2009)

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Shabtai Bittman (PhD)
Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre (PARC)
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Cocksfoot mottle virus (CMV) infects orchardgrass and is well known in many regions around the world that produce orchardgrass. In Japan, CMV is considered the most serious disease of orchardgrass. PARC Scientists first positively identified this virus on farms fields in BC in the early 1990's. CMV is probably widespread in both coastal BC and the Pacific Northwest.

The disease is most easily noticed in late March or early April when plants are less than 30 cm (12 in) tall. Distinctly yellowish (sometimes mottled) plants are scattered around fields. The disease is most prevalent in older stands because it builds up gradually. The pathogen does not survive in the soil and is not carried by seed so most new stands are disease-free. The disease is spread from infected plants by certain beetles but more commonly by harvesting equipment. The disease is less common on pastures than mechanically-harvested fields.

Plants infected with CMV lose vigour and eventually die. Because infected plants diminish and die, it is rare to see more than 10% infected plants in a field. CMV is very likely a major cause of stand decline and weed encroachment in orchardgrass in our region. There is no information on whether CMV reduces forage quality.

To reduce spread of the disease, farmers should plant resistant varieties (consult extension agent). Cleaning harvesting equipment, especially after harvesting older infected fields will slow spread of the disease. Harvesting clean fields before infected ones should also help to slow the spread of CMV.

Reprinted with permission from "Advanced Forage Management: A production guide for coastal British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest", S. Bittman, O. Schmidt and T.N. Cramer, 1999.

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Rust Alert (2000)

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Shabtai Bittman, Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre,
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Agassiz, BC

Severe stripe rust in the Chilliwack area in 1987.

Stripe rust on orchardgrass has arrived early in the Fraser Valley this summer. Infections have been reported in the Chilliwack and Agassiz areas. The rust appears as orange pustules usually arranged in rows on the leaves of orchardgrass. Stripe rust does not infect other forage grasses grown here, although other types of rust do.

Where does the rust come from?

Stripe rust usually does not overwinter in BC, although small amounts may survive in mild winters. The rust usually blows in on southerly winds from Oregon where it overwinters. Once established, stripe rust needs warm dry weather with 2-3 hours of morning dew to proliferate. The rust organism will double in number every 4-5 days.

What are the consequences of stripe rust on orchardgrass?

The main impact of rust is reduced digestiblity. Severe infections will increase Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF) by more than 5%, lowering TDN by at least 3 to 4%. Stipe rust also increases Neutral Detergent Fibre (NDF)and lowers protein content.

Variety differences in resistance to stripe rust.

What should farmers do?

The best strategy is to use resistant varieties. Seed dealers can provide information on the rust resistance of the varieites they sell. But no variety is totally immune to this disease. Infected fields should be harvested early to reduce the impact on digestibility and to reduce the amount of inoculum that may infect not only their crops but also those of their neighbours. Ensuring adequate fertility helps helps the grass outgrow the infection, although it does not reduce the rate of infection.

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Forage Management

Fertilizer Prices Affect the Value of Hay and Straw (2008)

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By Doon Pauly, Alberta Ag-Info Centre

The dramatic rise of fertilizer prices over the last year may be old news, but the effects of these increased input costs are still surprising. High fertilizer costs could affect hay, greenfeed and straw prices. Animal feed that is produced and harvested in one area and fed in another will export a lot of nutrients, and the fertility of that producing land will decline if these nutrients are not replaced as fertilizer or manure. The replacement cost of these nutrients needs to be built into the price of feed.

Fertilizer prices have been volatile since the fall of 2007, and this has even carried into summer months when prices are usually stable due to low demand. In an ever-changing market it is hard to come up with concrete prices, so, for the purpose of this article I have assumed some product costs that are hopefully close to realistic for much of Alberta.

Table 1. Estimated Fertilizer Costs Summer 2008















$/lb actual





Note - these costs have accounted for the nitrogen component of phosphate and sulphate fertilizers

Using these estimated fertilizer values and average feed analysis, the fertilizer replacement costs in various feeds ranges from about $39 per ton for straw to over $94 per ton for alfalfa hay, as shown in Table 2. Keep in mind that these are only some of the expenses tied up in this feed and do not include any of the costs of cutting or baling.

These values are also built on the assumption that any replacement fertilizer is 100 per cent efficient. In reality, fertilizer efficiency is lower than this and fertilizer is even more costly to replace. Although some may question the accuracy of these numbers, what they clearly indicate is that the nutrients in feed are valuable and need to be considered when setting prices.

Table 2. Nutrient Content and Fertilizer Replacement Costs in Various Feeds*

lb N/ton

lb P2O5/ton

lb K2O/ton

lb S/ton

Total Fertilizer
Cost $/ton







barley greenfeed
























oats greenfeed






barley straw






*From 10 Year Average Analysis of Alberta Feeds 1984-1994,$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/anim3780

High fertilizer prices seem to be a new reality and are not surprising anymore. What is unexpected sometimes is how these prices affect farming practices and products. Hay and greenfeed have value not just as animal feeds, but also on the basis of their fertilizer replacement value. Even straw, which is often viewed as waste product, may contain over $39 per ton of fertilizer equivalent. Fertilizer prices have made the nutrients in feed quite valuable, and buyers and sellers should take this into consideration when setting hay, greenfeed and straw prices.

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Forage Project Demonstrates Techniques to Benefit the Environment (2006)

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A three-year cropping demonstration in B.C.'s Peace River region is designed to show producers across Western Canada improved direct seeding techniques that will not only benefit crop and forage production but also benefit the environment.

The project, supported in part by the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP), is intended to show farmers a process for re-establishing hay and pasture stands without having to till fields, a common practice which not only increases the risk of erosion but also releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

In many situations, hay and pasture fields seeded to domestic forages have a limited life span and need to be reseeded or re-established every few years, explains Julie Robinson of the Peace River Forage Association (PRFA).

A conventional approach in many areas has been to plow and disc these fields through several tillage operations and then re-plant a perennial hay or pasture grass-seed mix.

On annual seeded crop land, dedicated to cereals and oilseeds, for example, an increasingly common farming practice, in recent years, has been to direct seed cereal and oilseeds - such as wheat and canola - directly into last year's stubble without tillage.

"Direct seeding forages, however, presents other challenges," says Robinson, who is also field co-ordinator for the soil and beef sectors of the GHGMP in the northeast B.C. region. The soil sector of the GHGMP program is administered by the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. "The difficulty with direct seeding a perennial back into an unproductive hay or pasture stand is getting good stand establishment and good weed control."

The objective of this demonstration is to develop a system that eliminates the need for breaking the sod and working the field. It appears the best strategy is to spray out the old forage stand with a herbicide, direct seed an annual crop such as oats or barley for preferably two years, and then re-established the new perennial crop into the cereal stubble. This can all be done without tillage.

A decent hay or pasture stand will produce about 2.5 tonnes of forage per acre per year for several years, but as the stand ages and production drops to about one tonne of forage per acre or less, the field is usually tilled and reseeded.

"With tillage there's always the concern about wind or water erosion until the new crop is established," says Robinson. "There's also the cost of the four or five tillage passes needed to break and cultivate a field. At today's fuel prices, that isn't cheap. And from an environmental standpoint, cultivation affects soil structure and also releases carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere."

A healthy, productive forage stand captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores or sequesters it as carbon in plant leaves and roots and in the soil. Conventional tillage, which breaks the sod and exposes the soil, releases that sequestered carbon.

The GHGMP-funded project, working on two sites, is evaluating different herbicide timings to determine if a fall and spring treatment is needed or just a fall treatment is sufficient to control weeds before the annual crop is directly seeded. Different herbicides and different combinations are being used. A feature report on the project is available on the SCCC website at

This summer the PRFA will work with Calvin Yoder, an Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development forage specialist from Spirit River, Alberta, to conduct a plant count on the various sites to determine which timing and which combination of herbicide was the most effective.

"Overall, we also need to look at herbicide economics," says Robinson. "There are different products and different combinations of products that may work. For the sake of production economics, we want to see if perhaps a less expensive treatment will do the job."

A report on the results of the various treatments should be ready by the fall of 2006.

For more information, contact:
Julie Robinson
Field Co-ordinator
Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture
Dawson Creek, B.C.
Phone: (250) 782-4501
Doug McKell
Executive Director
Soil Conservation Council of Canada
Indian Head, Sask.
Phone: (306) 695-4212

Dawson Creek, B.C. February 17, 2006

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Grass and Legume Seed Market Update (2008)

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Note: prices provided are grower prices, quoted by processors to growers after cleaning and dockage.

Prices for some grass and legume seed species have moved up a bit, in anticipation of lower production this upcoming year. A reduction in seed acres, not only in the Peace region but also in western Canada and throughout the world, is keeping the trade wondering how much production is in store for this year. The worldwide phenomenon of increasing cereal and oilseed production will affect the grass and legumes seed for the next few years.

In the turf sector, creeping red fescue quotes have moved up to around 60 ¢/lb, with fall prices quoted at 65 ¢/lb. This is a good price, but it our dollar hadn't moved up to it's present on-par situation with the US dollar, this price would have been 70-76 ¢/lb!!! Certified Boreal creeping red fescue is still showing a 5 to 10 ¢/lb premium.

In the forage grass seed sector, small price movements can be seen Common meadow brome grass seed quotes remain strong, in the $1.60-$1.70/lb range. Certified Fleet meadow brome anywhere from $1.70 to $1.90. Inventories of meadow are low. Common smooth brome grass seed quotes have softened slightly, and are in the $1.20 to $1.35/lb range. Certified Carlton is commanding a 15 to 20 ¢/lb premium. Common timothy has now moved up to the 40 - 50 ¢/lb range, with certified Climax timothy at 50 to 60 cents/lb.

On the legume side of thing, quoted have remained relatively unchanged. Sweet clover quotes remain at 25-30 ¢/lb, with alsike clover quotes around 35 - 37¢/lb. Good quality red clover quotes are between 85¢/lb and $1.00/lb, but good quality seed is scarce. After good early spring movement, common alfalfa seed prices are have softened a bit and are now quoted in the $1.15 to $1.25/lb range.

In summary, the industry continues to be slow, and is still expecting a fallout from the very strong prices in the grains and oilseed sector. With spring in the air, seed movement should be a good indicator of the near term market prospects for all grass and legume seed. So far, retail movement of seed has been slow.

For more information about the content of this document, contact David K. Wong.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/sis9787

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Maximizing the Nutritive Value of Forages (AAFC Fact Sheet 2015)

Maximizing the Nutritive Value of Forages - Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Fact Sheet in pdf format.

Cutting forages in the afternoon increases their nutritive value. 

Forages are a key part of the beef and dairy value chains. A clear link between forage quality and beef or milk production indicates the value of forages and the importance of enhancing the nutritive value of forages. Optimizing forage nutritive value can increase profitability for producers.

A key element of forages is “non-structural carbohydrates” (NSC), commonly known as sugars, which are made up of starch and water soluble carbohydrates (WSC). WSCs include glucose, fructose, sucrose along with fructans in grasses and pinitol in legumes. NSCs are an important source of energy and increasing these carbohydrates in forages has been shown to improve feed intake, milk yield, and nitrogen (N) use efficiency in dairy cows.

AAFC scientists carried out various studies looking at farming practices that optimize the nutritive value of forages including taking advantage of diurnal variations in non-structural carbohydrates and energy content of forages. They also evaluated the impact of the resulting high NSC forages on the performance of dairy cows

Feeding forages cut in the afternoon can increase milk yield
by up to 8% in dairy cows!


1. Farming practices that favour the accumulation of energy in forages

Time of Cutting
Plant NSC concentration increases during the day when photosynthesis creates more carbohydrate than the plant utilizes. Studies conducted in different areas of North America and with different forage species have shown that cutting in the afternoon, particularly on a sunny day, results in greater NSC concentrations.  (Figure 1).

 figure 1

Figure 1.  Diurnal variations in alfalfa concentrations (% of dry matter) of starch, soluble carbohydrates, and non-structural carbohydrates in summer regrowth in Quebec.  Dotted line shows hours after sunrise when the NSC concentration is at its maximum.

The AAFC studies showed that:

  • The greatest NSCconcentrations are usually reached 11-13 hours after sunrise in both grasses and legumes throughout the growing season (Figure 1).
  • As an example, for alfalfa, afternoon (PM) cutting resulted in a 50% higher concentration in starch, 19% higher concentration in WSC, and 22% increase in NSC (Figure 2). The concentration of NSC remained higher throughout the wilting period.
  • Related research showed that in four growth cycles the sugar concentration averaged 1.1 percentage units higher in PM-cut alfalfa forage (Figure 3).
  • The benefits of afternoon-cut forages also include other nutritive attributes such as greater in vitro dry matter (DM) digestibility. 

 figure 2

Figure 2. Effect of cutting time on alfalfa baleage carbohydrate concentration (% of dry matter).

 figure 3

Figure 3. Forage sugar concentrations (% of dry matter) from wide swaths cut 12 hrs after sunrise (PM cutting) or at 8 am the next morning (AM cutting).

Wide Swaths
Leaving forages to dry in wide swaths speeds up wilting time benefitting NSC concentrations by decreasing post-cut NSC use by the plant. After cutting, during the wilting period, NSC concentration decreases by as much as 0.35% dry matter per hour until the plant cells die and stop using NSC for respiration.  Recent research has shown that nighttime NSClosses in alfalfa cut in late afternoon are minimal and that these losses are more than compensated for by post-cut early morning photosynthesis within the cut herbage. 

Species Selection
A diurnal increase in NSC has been observed in most forage species, although the extent of the increase varies with species. While selection of proper forage species and cultivars can increase NSC concentrations, there have been only a few studies done on NSC comparisons.  Currently, there is insufficient information available to make specific recommendations.

OTHER strategies that may increase carbohydrate concentrations in forages
In addition to PM cutting, wide swathing, and species selection, factors such as climate, harvest management, and fertilization are also likely to affect plant growth, metabolism, and forage NSCconcentration.


·     Nitrogen fertilization - Lowering N fertilization has been shown to increase NSCconcentration and reduce crude protein concentration of several grass species (timothy, orchardgrass, tall fescue) which can lower N losses and improve the N use efficiency of cattle. However, the challenge is to balance this with reduced grass yield.


·     Genetic selection and improvement - NSCconcentration can be improved by genetic selection. However, there are few reports on genetic variability and the possibility of genetic improvement for sugar concentration for most forage species.  While development of perennial ryegrass varieties with an increased sugar concentration up to 8 percentage units have been reported out of the UK,         the results of recent AAFC investigations into genetic selection in alfalfa produced small (1 percentage unit) increases ofNSCconcentration.


·     Stages of development at harvest - Variations of NSCconcentration with stage of development are inconsistent, due in part to the confounding effects of stage of development and climatic conditions. However, in the fall, delaying harvest can result in significant increases in WSC because cool-season grasses generally have a higher concentration of NSCwhen grown at cool temperatures (5-10°C) than at warm temperatures (15-25°C).


·     Spring, summer and autumn growth - Forage harvested in late fall (e.g. October in Eastern Canada) is likely to have greater NSC concentrations than forage harvested in summer or early fall. The effect of the growing season on NSCconcentration is not clear as peaks in carbohydrate concentrations occur at different times of the year depending on, among other factors, forage species and location. The effect of temperature, photoperiod, and other factors affecting NSCvary among growth periods.


·     Silage fermentation - The concentration of NSCdecreases during fermentation and the decrease may vary with the silage DM concentration. Because of this, forages with high NSCconcentration might lose some of their advantage during the fermentation process. However, afternoon cut alfalfa and timothy are still best for silage as they will have a greater initial concentration of NSC.


2. Increased forage energy content IMPROVES dairy cow performance

Feeding 16 late-lactation dairy cows a diet of afternoon-cut higher energy (higher NSC) forages, confirmed an improvement in the performance (Figure 4): 

  •  Dry matter intake (DMI) by dairy cows increased;
  • Intake of digestible organic matter also increased;
  • Cows yielded 1.6 kg/d (3.5 lb/d) or 8% more milk;
  • Milk urea N (MUN) was lower suggesting improvement in N use efficiency.

      Other studies conducted with perennial ryegrass in the UK showed similar results.

 figure 4

Figure 4. Effect of cutting time on dry matter (DM) intake, milk production, and milk urea nitrogen.


Cutting forages in the afternoon (PM – 11 to 13 hours after sunrise) and leaving forages in wide swaths (to optimize rapid drying) raises the non-structural carbohydrate concentration in forages.  Forages with high NSC concentrations have more energy and are more digestible.

Optimizing non-structural carbohydrates in forage feed improves productivity and profitability. Dairy cows fed higher NSC forages were found to have higher dry matter intake, improved nitrogen use efficiency, and increased milk production by up to 8%.


For more information contact:

Gilles Belanger
Gaetan F. Tremblay

This fact sheet is based on two articles in “Cool Forages – Advanced Management of Temperate Forages”, Published by the Pacific Field Corn Association ( and Edited by Shabtai Bittman and Derek Hunt.

Berthiaume, Robert, Gaëtan F. Tremblay, Gilles Bélanger, Carole Lafrenière, Annick Bertrand, Yves Castonguay, Réal Michaud and Guy Allard, 2013, Taking advantage of Diurnal Shifts in the Nutritive Value of Forages, Cool Forages, Chapter 42 Pg 176-179.

Bélanger, Gilles, Gaëtan F. Tremblay, Robert Berthiaume, Annick Bertrand, Yves Castonguay, Réal Michaud and Guy Allard, 2013, Increasing Non-Structural Carbohydrates in Forages, Cool Forages, Chapter 43  Pg 180-183

cool forages


Options for Improving Forage Production on Pastures and Hay Lands (2004)

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Fraser Stewart, Manitoba Forage Council 2004

The productivity of a forage field depends upon many factors including available moisture and nutrients and the presence of productive forage species. Loss of production may be due to weather, decline in fertility, and loss of productive forage species due to management. We cannot affect weather but there are options to correct some of the other causes. It is important to understand the reasons for low productivity and correct it before initiating rejuvenation.

If the management, which caused the original loss of productive forages species, is not changed - it will be a short period of time after renovation when the forage field will have deteriorated back to the original state.

For pastures that consist primarily of native species, adjusting the grazing management is perhaps the most common method used to encourage the growth and development of the more productive forage species. This will require time for the more productive species to return to the pasture.

Similar management applies to seeded or tame pastures; however, there is more interest in introducing new, more productive forage species into the forage than waiting for a natural shift to the more productive species. Seeding more productive and adapted native species into an existing native stands is also being done successfully.

Perhaps the most important practice to improve the productivity of a pasture or hay land is to use a management system that allows the productive forages to rest and recover following a grazing or hay harvesting period.

Knowledge of what the potential forage production could be on your farm and an assessment of the forage species that are in your pasture or hay land will determine if and when to make improvements.

When to Improve a Pasture or Hay land ?

Condition Critera Recommendation

1. 75-100% of the potential yield for the area
2. 95% of the production coming from the desirable species

Maintain management system

1. 60-75% of the potential yield for the area
2. 75%-94% of the production coming from the desirable species

Maintain management system

1. 50-60% of the potential yield from the area
2. 51%-74% of the production coming from desirable species

Consider management changes and rejuvenation methods

1. 33%-55% of the potential yield for the area
2. Less than 50% of the production coming from desirable species

Introduce new forage species and adjust management system

Forage Rejuvenation Options

In general, there are a number of several accepted management practices that will assist in the rejuvenation of a forage stand in addition to grazing or hay land management: There are many ways to improve a forage stand or to introduce new forage species, some are very expensive systems and some very low cost but do take time for the results to be seen.

The results of an improved pasture or hay land can be increased carry capacity of a pasture or yield from the harvested forage. The economics of the increased production usually are far greater than the cost of the inputs.


Fertility has a major effect on forage production, perhaps second only to moisture. Fertilizer should be applied to the crop, based on the needs of the plant and the availability of nutrients in the soil based on soil tests.

  • Fertility will have a major effect on an existing forage stand and will be very cost effective. However the cost/benefit must be considered to ensure the profitability
  • Fertilizer is most effective on forage stands that are in fair condition or better. It may not be economic on very poor or depleted forage stands.
  • The use of legumes in a forage mixture will improve the soil fertility and the productivity of most forage fields. This is accomplished by the use of nitrogen fixing bacteria ( Rhizobium), which grows on the legume roots and allows the legume plant to convert nitrogen from the air for plant use. The Rhizobium is applied to the legume seed at seeding. Grass/legume mixtures that have at least 50% legume content are usually fertilized with phosphate fertilizer as this nutrient encourages the growth of the legume. If nitrogen is applied, it will encourage the grass at the expense of the legume. Other nutrients are applied if required by soil test.
  • Nitrogen is the major nutrient for application to grasses and will increase both feed value and total yield. Other nutrients should be applied according to soil test recommendations.
  • Commercial fertilizers are most effective when applied when temperatures are low and the probability of moisture is high. Early spring or late fall are the preferred options. Banding fertilizer into a forage field is the preferred method of application although broadcasting is most common due to lower cost.
  • Pastures usually require less fertility than hay land as the grazing animal excretes approximately 70% of the ingested nutrients back through the manure and urine to the soil and plants. The grazing management system, to some degree can be used to redirect the nutrients where most needed.

Complete cultivation or renovating

Seeding into an existing pasture or hay field has always been a popular "fix" for a tired pasture. Adding new, more productive forage species into a pasture or hay land will increase the productivity. However, there are major challenges to do this successfully.

One of the most effective ways of improving a productive forage is the complete cultivation or renovation of the existing forage and then seeding down a new forage stand as it will usually result in the most successful forage establishment However, this is usually considered as the most expensive option and in some soils, where soil erosion or other environmental conditions are a concern, may not be the most profitable or accepted option. Where forages are used in a crop rotation, it is usually the accepted method.

Some of the management highlights include:

  • The existing forage species are killed out by the use of an herbicide and/or cultivation so there is minimal competition for the emerging forage seedlings.
  • A firm, even seedbed is developed to encourage seed germination and plant establishment
  • A seeding system is used to place the small forage seeds shallow for maximum emergence. In this picture, the forage seed is placed on the soil surface and a press wheel is used to press it in. Also fertilizer may be banded below the seed. Minimal tillage systems are being used which result in excellent seed placement with minimal soil disturbance.
  • An environment is provided to allow the emerging forage seedlings to establish by the use of adequate fertility and suppression of competing plants such as weeds and cover crops. Following the breaking of a forage field, the nutrients released from the decaying vegetation are available to the establishing forage seedlings. Weeds however also utilize this nutrient source and can very quickly choke out the new forage seedlings if not controlled.

Sod seeding

This is a practice used to introduce a more productive forage species into an existing forage stand. Sod seeding is often used instead of more extensive cultivation due to limitations to cultivation by stones, brush or soil erosion problems


Sod seeding equipment must be able to penetrate the sod layer (thatch layer) and place the seed into the mineral soil. This usually involves triple disc drills where a heavy disk cuts a slot in the sod and the next set of disks places the seed. Depth control is required on the seeding disks so that the seed is not buried too deep or emergence will be restricted. A packer wheel is used to close the slot to reduce drying out of the soil.

Hoe drills or the use of spike equipment is also used but are not very satisfactory for areas where there are stones.

The major problem in most areas is the availability of equipment as this specialized equipment is often very expensive. However, after frost, early in the spring, most soils are quite soft and many traditional seeders will be very effective.


a) Soil tests need to be taken to identify limiting nutrients that will have an effect on successful establishment of a new forage crop.

b) Phosphate fertilizer has been recognized as perhaps being the major nutrient required to promote seedling establishment and root development.

c) The ideal seeding equipment should be able to deliver the required fertility in a banded form at time of seeding.

Vegetation Control:

Establishing a new forage seedling into existing sod is a challenging experience as the seedling is usually placed into a very hostile and competitive environment. The sod thatch is very acidic and can affect germination, there is competition from the existing forage and other plants, and there are also insects that love the freshly germinated seedlings - a very hostile environment.

a) To reduce the competition from other plants, which is usually the major competition: use of a nonselective herbicide such as Roundup (glyphosate) applied one to two days prior to seeding is a common practice. Fall herbicide application is sometimes used but in the event of a dry spring, may be a higher risk. The forage to be controlled needs to be actively growing for theherbicide to be effective.

b) Many of the non-selective herbicides, do not provide complete vegetative control, more of a suppression effect, however, if the suppression is enough to allow establishment of the forage seedlings that is all that is required. Some forage/weed species are resistant to herbicides such as glyphosate and may increase as a result of the application eg: pasture sage.

c) The use of some broadleaf herbicides (eg: Banvel ) may result in some herbicide residues in the soil for 2-3 weeks , which could effect the germination of broadleaf forages such as alfalfa or other clovers.

d) Seeding Alfalfa into an old alfalfa stand is not recommended unless the old plants are sparsely spaced due to the auto toxicity of the old alfalfa roots and leaves, which prevents the establishment of new plants.

e) Over grazing or very close grazing of a forage stand the previous fall will often weaken the existing plants enough so as to reduce competition to the new forage seedlings.

f) Close cutting (mechanical), can sometimes reduce the competitiveness of the existing stand.

g) Fire is often used to burn off old growth that could interfere with the seeding process. However, as fire stimulates new growth, it should be used with careful management

Timing of seeding:

This is often a critical factor for successful sod seeding.

a) Early spring seeding is the most effective time for sod seeding, as there is usually sufficient moisture and cooler weather. If seeding takes place directly after the snow melts, the sod is very soft and even a double disk drill will penetrate very easily.

b) However, if it is too early and there is insufficient insulation for the new seedlings, some legumes could be killed out by late spring frosts. Seeding into an old stubble will often provide the necessary insulation or protection.

c) Later spring seeding and summer seeding may be successful but higher risk due to moisture limitations and excessive heat, which can kill seedlings.

d) It is often a good management practice to sod seed a few pastures/hay fields every year as some years there is sufficient moisture and it works well, other years the technique may not work.

Forages for Sod Seeding:

Legumes have generally being most successful for sod seeding although there are a number of grass species, including some native species that will establish reasonably well. Legumes are usually preferred as they reduce the need for nitrogen application and will improve the quality of the forage.

a) Red Clover is very aggressive; where there is good moisture, but usually a short-term legume.

b) Alfalfa has more long term potential, however, introducing alfalfa into an existing alfalfa stand can be limited due to the auto toxicity of the existing plants. New seedlings within 8 inches of an old plant have very limited chance of survival, at 16 inches there is survival but low yield while at 24 inches there is no effect on establishment.

c) Trefoil has been successful where there is sufficient moisture. One advantage of this species is that it will reseed itself and it does not cause bloat.

d) Grass species, which can establish easily such as: Orchard, Timothy, Tall Fescue and Meadow Brome have worked well where there is sufficient moisture. Some native grasses have also been sod seeded but are usually slower to establish.

Over seeding

Over seeding involves the broadcasting of seed into an existing pasture or hay land. The cost of this process is usually quite low cost, however due to lower seed germination and establishment, the amount of improvement may be quite limited, thus establishment risk is greater than other options. However, if there is successful establishment of one to two legume plants per square meter, this will result in improved forage quality to the pasture or hay land.

Some specialized renovation equipment

such as the Aer-Way units, which consists of spikes on a shaft, which can be angled to increase soil disturbance. These units were originally design to aerate the soil but are also being used to open the sod on rough land for seeding new species.

The teeth open the sod, and allows for the broadcasting of the seed into the soil. They will kill some of the existing plants but if there are sufficient creeping rooted plants, they will quickly fill in. This equipment will negatively affect alfalfa and bunch type grasses. The renovation is usually done in early spring and can result in 50% -70% disturbance of the sod..

These units work better than a spiked toothed cultivator which some farmers have used as they can be used on rough land.

Beam Scrapers

In recent years, drag bars or beam scrapers have been built that have resulted in successful forage stands. The drag bar consists of a heavy steel beam (eye beam) followed by grader blades bolted together on edge so that they will cut or scrape the sod. This heavy unit will level and cut into the sod enough to bare the mineral soil. Very adapted to rough terrain. These units are easily home made from scrap materials.

This equipment has been used to reseed old pastures The scraper, opens and levels the sod, seed is broadcast into the semi cultivated soil and then a second pass with the beam will work the seed into the soil.

The use of a non-selective herbicide such as Glyphosate, reduces competition from the existing forage. This system has been used as a relatively low cost method to improve rough land pasture.

These units have also been used to improve rough land pasture where there is excessive brush and small trees. The beam scrapers are pulled over the trees and scrape the bark off so that will dehydrate and die out. This usually done in late spring or early summer before the brush becomes too mature.

Frost Seeding

This technique has been used successfully in Eastern Canada and the NE USA to introduce new forage species into a forage stand. It has had some limited success but if moisture is available can be successful. It is usually used to introduce new forage plants, primarily legumes into an existing forage stand in areas where other mechanical equipment would not be able to go such as where the terrain is very rough or there are stones.

The forage seed is spread on the soil surface using a small battery operated broadcaster mounted on a small tractor. Most units spread about twenty feet wide and the seeding is done in the winter on the snow or early spring period when there are still frosts.

The effect of the snow melt, helps to take the seed down to the mineral soil, the alternate freezing and thawing helps to break the seed coat, works the seed into the mineral soil and stimulates germination. Very similar to what happens in nature

  • Most successful establishment with legumes (50%-60%), compared to grasses (20%-30%)
  • Usually takes at least two years to see any major effect.
  • The cost of the equipment is very low but as the seedling mortality is very high, there is a higher risk for establishment.
  • Ideal is to seed a few small fields every year instead of many fields at once so that there is a greater chance of success as not every year will be the ideal year with good moisture or growing conditions. Some farmers, annually frost seed 25% of their fields and over time, increase the productivity of the forage.

Field Trial Results

Some of these options were involved in a trial conducted in SE Manitoba, which was initiated in 2001 and was evaluated over the following two years.

Renovation System % of Seeded Plants of the Total Plant Population ( June 2003)
Herbicide plus Phosphate Herbicide with no Phosphate

sod seed



aerway & broadcast seed



drag & broadcast seed






The species seeded included alfalfa, trefoil, red clover, timothy, tall fescue and meadow brome. Of interest in this trial was the relative success of the drag system and that the benefit of the phosphate fertilizer at seeding.

Winter-feeding on pasture

This is another option that is used to introduce new seeds to a pasture. Bales are unrolled or are shredded and fed on the pasture area over the winter period. Any mature forage will drop seed onto the soil and will be worked in by the animals. The additional fertility by the manure (beef manure: N 35 lbs, P 27 lbs K 31 lbs over 100 days) will provide a good medium for the new seedlings.

Bale grazing is another unique approach to this winter-feeding system. Round bales are set out in rows in the winter pasture area in late fall, a temporary fencing controls the feeding of the bales so that no winter tractor use is required. The animals will spread the manure on the fields and some seeds will be shed from the fed hay. Many farmers have found the pasture from these areas is slow to come back in the spring but the overall effect has been higher forage production from the wintering areas Feeding bales in a brush area will also help to kill out the invaders and allow new grass to grow. This is an excellent, painless method of removing pasture brush - feed on top of the brush/weeds in the winter!

Livestock Seeding

This has been another method some have used but with usually very limited results. This is where the forage seed is fed to the animals and then the seed is deposited on the pasture through the manure. The limitations are that the animals do a pretty good job of digesting the seed so live seed in the manure may be very low, the ammonia in the manure can also have an effect on the germination and you have minimal control of where the cows will deposit the manure. However, some have mixed 5 lbs of forage seed (primarily legumes) into 50 lbs of mineral prior to putting the animals into new pasture and have seen some results after several years.

Control of Competing Vegetation

Vegetation such as weeds and brush compete with the forage for nutrients including light. It is usually very cost effective to remove them to increase productivity.

  • Mowing by the use of flair or rotary mowers can be used to remove brush, perennial weeds, and poisonous plants or unproductive forage species. Cattle may not graze some species and mowing several years in a row will reduce the persistency of the shrubs/weeds. However the process is time consuming and expensive but may be the best practice in some situations to allow the more productive forages to persist. Brush is usually cut in the early spring and perennial weeds are often cut prior to flowering, as that is the time the root reserves are at their lowest point
  • Herbicides are also used to control brush and unwanted weeds to allow for forage growth.

- Equipment options include ground sprayers, aerial sprayers; wick sprayers and the use of spot spraying equipment. Selection of the equipment and herbicide will be made on the basis of the weeds or brush that needs to be controlled and the terrain of the field. For example, aerial spraying may be the only option in very rough pastureland and the use of a wick sprayer may be used to remove tall growing weeds or brush from a productive grass/legume pasture.

- The use of herbicides may be very cost effective and need to be considered in conjunction with other options. Regrowth of plants following the use of herbicides requires follow-up management.

- Selection of herbicides will be determined by the species to be controlled. Herbicides used may be selective in that they will only affect certain types of weeds, such as broadleaf weeds or they may be non selective and will remove or suppress all vegetation. The range of registered herbicides available for use on forage crops is quite limited.

  • The use of fire has also been effective for some situations. A natural occurrence on many native grasslands, it can be used to control invasion of brush and for removing old growth so that new seedlings and forbs can develop. However brush regrowth occurs after a fire and needs follow-up control.

Management of Reseeded Forage

It is important to reduce the grazing pressure on the newly seeded forages to allow for effective establishment of the forage. After seeding, livestock are often allowed to graze off any surplus forage or weed growth, prior to the emergence of the new seedlings. This will reduce the competition to the seedlings. Depending upon the amount of growth of the seedlings, they may be grazed in the year of establishment but very carefully. Grazing can be beneficial as it can reduce competition from other plants, but a sufficient rest period needs to be provided for the regrowth of the forage seedlings. In some situations, the reseeded fields should not be grazed for the total season.

In Summary - there are some key options to improve a "tired pasture or hay land"

1. Use a grazing management system that includes a Rest/Re-growth system so as to promote the more productive forage species in your pasture and to reduce the opportunities for the undesirable plants.

2. When seeding new forage species into the pasture, plan ahead, reduce the competition, place the seed if possible into the mineral soil and use a grazing or hay management system to promote development.

3. Plan for the future, have some goals, do a little each year, and over the years, you will see a major improvement!

Source & pdf version of this article:

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Researchers Answer the Unasked Questions (Jan 2011)

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Researchers answer the unasked questions

By: Laura Rance

Given the season, you might have heard about the six French scientists, not to mention hundreds of samples, it took to figure out the science behind the age-old practice of pouring champagne down the side of a tall glass to prolong its bubbly flavour. Yeah, and they probably worked for a university too, one of the last bastions of research that, on the surface at least, has seemingly little practical relevance.

But chances are, you've never heard about the university summer students hired to sit in a pasture and observe how cattle graze. When they weren't re-evaluating their career choices, these poor schmucks might have wondered what possible good might come from their season of obscure data collection.

It turns out, this basic research, the kind the more practically minded among us like to ridicule, is providing insights that can make the difference between profit and loss in a beef operation -- without a single investment in supplements, machinery or technology. It might even curtail global warming.

By watching cows do what they are naturally designed to do, which is harvest the sun's energy through grass, researchers learned that cows are basically unionized, grazing specialist Jim Gerrish told the recent Manitoba Grazing School in Brandon.

After pausing for the inevitable "hardy-har-har" from his audience, he pointed out there's not a thing you can do to make cows eat for more than eight to 10 hours a day. That's because cows are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs to process food; they need to eat, rest and ruminate in fairly equal blocks over a 24-hour period.

So if producers want to increase their herd's grazing efficiency, they can't do it by increasing the grazing time. "The only thing we can control is the bite size." Those observational studies found that cows do their best eating on pasture that is six to 15 inches (15 to 38 centimeters) in height.

Under those optimum conditions, cows will literally wrap their tongues around the forage and pull it into their mouths between 15,000 and 18,000 times a day. As the grass gets shorter, they take quicker smaller bites, averaging between 45,000 and 50,000 per day -- but they aren't getting as much feed and they're having to work harder for it. Plus, overgrazing above the surface compromises the plant root systems below. Forage is like a solar panel that captures the sun's energy, converting it to carbon through photosynthesis. Reducing the forage cover reduces the solar panel, which slows the pasture's ability to rebound.

"How many of you have gone to the pasture thinking you're going to move cattle, looked and said, they can stay another day?" Gerrish asked his audience. "That is the single biggest mistake we make in the grazing community." If producers were doing a better job managing their grass, they could extend their grazing system well into a typical Prairie winter for about 33 cents per animal per day instead of feeding harvested hay at an average cost of $1.33.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way for producers to increase their forage production and increase the grazing efficiency of their cow herds is to graze each paddock a little less. "There is no such thing as wasting grass," he says.

Granted, there's lots of controversy swirling around the cattle industry in the greenhouse gas debate. Some have labelled the livestock sector as one of the biggest global contributors to greenhouse gases and suggested one way to control global warming is to eat less meat and dairy.

That may be so, especially since most of our meat comes from animals raised in confinement systems, with grain hauled in and manure hauled out.

But those anti-livestock arguments don't factor in the role that well-managed grazing lands play in sequestering carbon. According to Gerrish, if graziers left an extra two inches (five centimeters) of forage on 20 per cent of the world's grazing lands, global CO2 levels would drop to pre-industrial levels inside of 10 years.

What's more, he says one acre of well-managed grass sequesters more methane than one cow produces in a year -- not to mention the role grazing animals play in recycling nutrients. One of the best ways to improve soil quality is to graze animals on it. It starts with research that gets little support from the private sector because it has no immediate practical application and provides no opportunity for collecting a return on investment.

So while you're pouring out the less-than-bubbly remnants of last night's celebration, raise a toast to those researchers still out there finding answers to questions most of us never think to ask.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email:

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Ten Keys to a Profitable Forage Program (2009)

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1. Remember that you are a forage farmer. Forage typically accounts for over half the cost of production of forage-consuming animals and provides most of their nutrition. Thus, it has a major influence on both expenses and income. Efficient forage production and utilization are essential to a profitable operation.

2. Know forage options, animal nutritional needs, and establishment requirements. Forages vary as to adaptation, growth distribution, forage quality, yield, and potential uses. Various types and classes of animals have different nutritional needs. Good planting decisions depend on knowing forage options for your land resources and the nutritional needs of your animals.

3. Soil test, then lime and fertilize as needed. This practice, more than any other, affects the level and economic efficiency of forage production. Fertilizing and liming as needed help ensure good yields, improve forage quality, lengthen stand life, and reduce weed problems.

4. Use legumes whenever feasible. Legumes offer important advantages including improved forage quality and biological nitrogen fixation, whether grown alone or with grasses. Once legumes have been established, proper management optimizes benefits.

5. Emphasize forage quality. High animal gains, milk production, and reproductive efficiency require adequate nutrition. Producing high-quality forage necessitates knowing the factors that affect forage quality and using appropriate management. Matching forage quality to animal nutritional needs greatly increases efficiency.

6. Prevent or minimize pests and plant-related disorders. Variety selection, cultural practices, scouting, pesticides, and other management techniques can minimize pest problems. Knowledge of potential animal disorders caused by plants can help avoid them.

7. Strive to improve pasture utilization. The quantity and quality of pasture growth vary over time. Periodic adjustments in stocking rate or use of cross fencing to vary the type or amount of available forage can greatly affect animal performance and pasture species composition. Matching stocking rates with forage production is also extremely important.

8. Minimize stored feed requirements. Stored feed is one of the most expensive aspects of animal production, so lowering requirements reduces costs. Extending the grazing season with use of both cool season and warm-season forages, stockpiling forage, and grazing crop residues are examples of ways stored feed needs can be reduced.

9. Reduce storage and feeding losses. Wasting hay, silage, or other stored feed is costly. Minimizing waste with good management, forage testing, and ration formulation enhances feeding efficiency, animal performance, and profits.

10. It's up to you. Rarely, if ever, do we get something for nothing. In human endeavors, results are usually highly correlated with investments in terms of thought, time, effort, and a certain amount of money. In particular, the best and most profitable forage programs have had the most thought put into them.

Source: Ball,D.M., C.S.Hoveland, and G.D. Lacefield, 1996. Adapted with permission from the International Plant Nutrition Institute,Norcross, GA.


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VIDEO: Forage Production and Management (based on the book: "Cool Forages") (2014)

The experts from have released a new comprehensive guide to forage production entitled "Cool Forages: Advanced Management of Temperate Forages". The guide has information on everything from selecting new forage varieties, maximizing manure as a fertilizer, feeding of seasonal forages, to predicting forage quality. Co-author, Dr. Shabti Bittman, talks about the secrets to forage management and how to maximize your production. Click here to watch video.

Date: February 20, 2014

Speaker: Dr. Shabtai Bittman, Crop Specialist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

WEBINAR: Modern Nutrient Management in Forages

Webinar for the beef industry, April 8, 2015
Shabtai Bittman and Derek Hunt
AAFC, Pacific Agri-food Research Centre, Agassiz. BC

The paradox of managing nutrients in forages is that it is, at once, more and less sustainable than in annual crops. The permanent cover protects against nutrient losses leaching and runoff but makes losses to the atmosphere more common. Furthermore, forages often receive nutrients as manure, but there are great problems with using this cheap nutrient source effectively for crop production, including nutrient imbalances and uneven distribution. I will discuss some problems and strategic solutions for using nutrients during this part of the talk. In the second part of the talk, I will discuss nutrient management as a global issue. I will explain why the new concept of the ‘cascade of nitrogen’ in the environment has gained traction around the world. I will also discuss some of the nutrient relevant results from our recent farm survey of the beef cattle sector (conducted by IPSOS). Finally, I will talk about our new book called Cool Forages. It is our attempt to inform the sector about some of the most important and interesting contemporary topics about forages (including nutrients), trying to inspire enthusiasm and appreciation for our trodden crops. The book covers new information from around the world on manure testing and use, unexpected wintertime nutrient losses, application of phosphorus and sulphur on forages, effects of nutrient imbalances on pastures and how to balance nutrients on pastures with more plant diversity, the benefits of forages in rotations, and even how to use municipal biosolids on forages…and many other topics. Cool Forages is available at a reasonable cost, in hard and soft cover, through the Pacific Field Corn Association website called

Forage Testing

Forage Analysis and Determining Feed Quality in Dry Years (March 2010)

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From the Mar 1, 2010 Issue of Agri-News:$department/newslett.nsf/all/agnw16271

Many areas of Western Canada have come through a dry summer, and, in some areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan, weather conditions have reduced perennial and annual forage production by 75 per cent. This means that forage costs have increased dramatically from the previous year, and farmers are trying to optimize the use of their feed resources.

"Mixing feeds is one way producers can stretch their feed supply," says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. "To do this efficiently, feed testing each forage type and grain is required. With tight economic times in the cow calf sector, many producers have turned to the Near Infrared Red Spectroscopy (NIRS) system for analysis instead of wet chemistry. This change reduces costs by approximately $40 per forage sample submitted, and turn-around time is significantly reduced when NIRS is used."

In dry years, plants mature more rapidly than in a normal year. A lack of moisture restricts total plant growth and the amount of starch or sugar deposited. Dry conditions restricts the plants' ability to get calcium and other nutrients out of the soil, thus mineral content in plants is also reduced. Also, acid detergent fibre and neutral detergent fibre levels increase more rapidly in the plants than in a year with normal moisture, which further reduces overall energy content in the forage.

"When producers are dealing with production problems associated with dry conditions, feed testing is essential, which is what makes NIRS so attractive," says Yaremcio. "NIRS measures the nutrient content of forages and grains by the amount of light that is absorbed or reflected off the sample. Light energy absorbed by the hydrogen-containing bonds in the feed is measured by the machine and the scan results are related through statistical correlation and calibration equations, to predict the nutritional content of the feed."

To develop calibration curves for the NIRS system, reference samples are analyzed by wet chemistry. These reference samples are from a wide range of locations, different stages of plant maturity and environmental conditions. The accuracy of NIRS predictions depends on the calibration curves developed from the reference samples. NIRS results for protein, acid detergent fibre (ADF) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) of forages are used widely in North America for ration-balancing purposes.

When testing feed, a note of caution must be acknowledged. Measuring mineral composition (calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and sodium) by NIRS is less precise and more problematic than wet chemistry. These nutrients do not absorb light in the near infrared spectrum unless they are bound in a molecule which contains a hydrogen bond. Unlike CP and ADF, NIRS is not recognized as an official method for determining the mineral content in forages by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (AOAC).

Test results for calcium, phosphorus and magnesium must be considered carefully before values are used for ration balancing purposes.

To illustrate methodology can impact test results, portions from the same sample of a barley greenfeed grown under drought conditions was analyzed by both NIRS and wet chemistry. Results are in the table below. Reported concentrations for calcium, phosphorus and magnesium were considerably different between wet chemistry and NIRS while the potassium and sodium results are identical (see chart below).

Reported concentrations differ between wet chemistry and NIRS



















Wet Chemistry









If a cow calf producer was to provide this barley greenfeed as the sole feed after calving using the NIRS results, a lactating cow would require 113 grams (4 ounces) of limestone per head per day to maintain a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. Phosphorus and magnesium levels appear to be sufficient when using Cowbytes to balance the ration.

When the wet chemistry results are used, feeding the same ration, on a per head per day basis, 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of a 2:1 mineral is needed to increase the phosphorus content in the ration, along with an additional 95 grams (3.3 ounces) of limestone to have a 2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio. Magnesium is deficient and 23 grams (0.8 ounces) of magnesium oxide is required per head per day.

"Calcium and phosphorus are the two most important macro minerals in a beef ration," says Yaremcio. "If the amounts of calcium and phosphorus are not in the proper ratio with calcium being deficient; weight gains can be reduced in growing animals. For mature cows fed a calcium deficient ration you may experience the following conditions: milk fever or downer cows; reduced milk production; winter tetany; stillborn calves; and, retained placentas. Calcium can be mobilized from the cows' bones which can cause osteoporosis.

"If phosphorus is deficient in the ration, feed intake can be reduced resulting in lower milk yield in cows and growth rates in calves. Additional cow concerns are silent heats, longer times to start cycling and low conception rates in cows. A phosphorus deficiency related production problem will be noticed quicker than a calcium deficiency. To prevent tetany problems, 23 grams (0.8 ounces) of magnesium oxide is also required per head per day."

There can be large discrepancies in feed test results among the analytical systems. Depending on which results are being used, the supplementation program required can be considerably different and have impact on the long term performance of the cow herd. Consult with a nutritionist, or extension agent, to obtain a second opinion of what is required to provide a balanced supplementation program.

Barry Yaremcio
Alberta Agriculture & Rural Development

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Link to BC Ministry of Agriculture Nutrient Testing Labs in B.C.   - The following is a list of laboratories known to provide agricultural testing services for farmers in British Columbia, in particular for nutrient management. It is not an endorsement of any laboratory. For each laboratory, the types of analyses offered are listed by the following code:

  • S = soil fertility
  • C = crop or tissue nutrients
  • M = manure or compost nutrients
  • W = water quality 
 Click here for link.

The Western Forage Testing System Report 2014

The Western Forage Testing System (WFTEST) was developed in 1994 to coordinate the testing for registration and performance of forage cultivars across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The goals of this system are:

  • To streamline and coordinate the registration and performance evaluation process. The tests will provide sufficient data for simultaneous consideration for registration and/or performance listings in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
  • To share the responsibility for forage testing among provinces, the federal government and the seed trade.
  • To encourage as much data collection as possible and to ensure that the tests are uniform and the sites are inspected.

CLICK HERE for full report in pdf format.

Trials to Assess Disease Resistance and Yield Potential of Red Clover Varieties (2015)

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National Forage Issues

Expert Committee on Forage Crops (2004)

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The Expert Committee on Forage Crops (ECFC) held its annual meeting in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on February 4 & 5, 2004 in conjunction with the Canadian Hay Association annual meeting. Special associated meetings of Forages Canada, the organization that assists in coordinating the various provincial forage councils, was held as well as a meeting of the proposed Canadian Hay Grading Standards Committee.

The mandate of the ECFC is to provide a forum for communication, discussion, planning, cooperation, and coordination among all areas of the forage industry. The committee monitors forage research, and identifies potential challenges and opportunities related to forage and seed production. It also advises on variety registration and seed quality issues; coordinates national and regional variety testing; advises on conflicts on land utilization involving forage resources in Canada and the potential for change; initiates and coordinates national workshops or symposia on forage crops when needed; and presents recommendations on forage related research and forage policy issues in consultation with stakeholders.

Roundtable for Forages

The main focus of this year's annual meeting was the development of a proposed "Round Table for the Canadian Forage Industry". During 2003, Agriculture & Agri Food Canada launched a number of sector-specific roundtables to implement action plans for global market success.

Roundtables are formed to create a shared understanding of key market challenges and opportunities facing the sector; to set goals and targets that will strengthen the sector's competitive position and enhance Canada's overall capacity to meet the changing demands of markets; and to develop branding strategies for the sector. The goal is to bring together industry stakeholders and governments to work on a common action plan, to have the international programming work for them and to improve their position in external and domestic markets.

The forage sector is generally seen as an input industry to the beef and dairy industries. The forage sector is not yet active in roundtable discussions and no forage issue has been raised yet by livestock groups. The two forage processing sectors (double compressed hay and dehy alfalfa) have expressed desire to establish a separate Value-Chain Roundtable specific for the forage industry.

Input from the provincial forage councils through Forages Canada will be sought in addition to the forage seed producer's organizations in Western Canada and possibly the Canadian Turf Grass Industry Association. At present these groups are in the process of developing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) of the forage sector as part of the roundtable formation request to Ottawa.

For more information, please contact Dr. Shabtai Bittman, Pacific Agri Research Centre, email:

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