Vancouver Island Forage Demonstration Project Summary Report 2006-2009

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Prepared by Graeme Fowler

Project Coordinator
June 30th, 2009

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The Vancouver Island Forage Committee initiated a three year forage demonstration program with support from the BC Forage Council, the Island Farmers Alliance, farm cooperators and agriculture businesses.

First year trials consisted of malting barley at Oyster River, relay cropping in Courtenay and Cowichan and sorghum/sudan grass in Black Creek and Courtenay. Second year trials consisted of relay crops, sorghum/sudan grass and corn for cattle grazing, lowland grass mix establishment, and multiple varieties of grain trials. The third and final year of the trials consisted of grazing corn for cattle, lowland grass mix establishment, straight stand alfalfa establishment, barley & vetch silage (fertilized vs. unfertilized), relay cropping, and multiple varieties of grain trials.

Sorghum/Sudan Grass Trials were initiated to determine if this drought tolerant crop could be grown on dry land fields and produce significant volume to harvest prior to the onset of adverse weather conditions in the fall. The Brown Mid-Ribbed Sorghum/Sudan Grass variety was used for all trials. Although this forage is toted as a drought tolerant crop, germination success and successful crop establishment requires adequate soil moisture following planting to allow the plant to set the tap root. None of the trial cooperators were able to achieve uniform germination, adequate crop yields, adequate weed suppression, or find any other advantages to recommend the continuation of these crop demonstrations into year three.

Forage samples were analyzed by Norwest Bodycote Labs in Lethbridge, Alberta and the results are shown in the following table:

BMRSorghum/Sudan Grass

Analysis as Fed Basis

Dry Matter




Crude Protein



Acid Detergent Fibre (ADF)






Prussic Acid

20 ppm

80 ppm

Prussic Acid levels of 200-500 ppm are toxic to livestock.
Sudangrass,sorghum, and sorghum-sudangrass hybrids are among a group of plants that produce cyanide, which can poison livestock under certain conditions.

Grazing Corn trials were initiated to demonstrate the effectiveness of these crops to provide late-summer dry land grazing opportunities for livestock producers. These trials were performed for 2 years achieving uniform germination and yields rivalling silage corn production. Baxxos, a round up ready variety of grazing corn was used for these trials on the same 7 acre field for both seasons. When the cattle were allowed to graze the standing crop while still green, the animals utilised the entire plant eating the cobs, leaves and then stalks while leaving minimal trash behind. When the cows were put into more mature crops much more of the crop was wasted. Cooperators were pleased with the amount of weight gain and condition of their animals while grazing corn. Electric fence was used to create small paddocks to keep the cattle contained to increase crop utilisation.

Relay crops of tetraploid annual ryegrass and silage corn inter-seeded at the 4-6 leaf corn plant stage were performed to compare direct seeding versus broadcast seeding success and to measure the success of this method versus conventionally seeded cover crops post corn harvest. Five cooperators planted a total of 250 acres of these crops over the three year trial period. The crops were planted with a 4 row Vicon Air Seeder at a rate of 25 lbs per acre. Although the broadcast seeded relay crops performed well when adequate summer precipitation was available, the air seeded relay crops outperformed them during more commonly dry conditions. Relay crops also consistently outperformed post harvest conventionally seeded cover crops in yield soil protection coverage and resistance to plant removal by overwintering waterfowl and ungulates.

In addition to the obvious soil conservation and enhancement characteristics of these crops, relay crops provide a low cost wildlife lure as well as a protein rich early spring livestock forage. A south island cooperator estimated the early spring yield to be 2.5 to 3 tons per acre. This spring growth enabled the cooperator to pasture 35 dairy cattle for a 2 week period on 12 acres of the Italian ryegrass relay crops for each of the three years.

This demonstration has resulted in one of the project cooperators purchasing a corn side dresser for the purpose of planting relay crops on all of his corn land. He also intends on making the unit available to other island farmers for relay crop planting.

The lowland perennial grass mix consisting of 35% MARATHON Reed Canary grass, 25% TITAN Timothy, 25% HOEDOWN Tall Fescue, 7.5% Alsike Clover (with QwikGrow) and 7.5% Birdsfoot Trefoil (with QwikGrow) was trialed at 2 separate farms to find an alternative to pure reed canary swards in field areas prone to flooding. The trial sites were 5 acres and 2 acres in size. The trials established well, survived some winter flooding and at one site increased yields 6 fold from the previous crop of minimal tame forages and mostly native grasses in the first growing season. Both cooperators experience 80% or better germination success but at one location half of the field died out due to winter flooding which required a second spring seeding to establish the field. There is still a portion of the field that is just too wet to sustain perennial forages. The Alsike clover and Birdsfoot trefoil did not establish well at either of these locations.

Barley and Vetch Trial - Fertilized versus Unfertilized

This demonstration was intended to reveal if vetch could replace fertilizer with minimal impacts to yields of barley grown for livestock feed (silage). The Barley grown with fertilizer had a 40% higher yield (by weight) than the unfertilized Barley while the Unfertilized Barley and Vetch had a 50% higher yield by weight than the fertilized Barley and Vetch. The plots were 0.5 acres in size and were fertilized with 150 lbs of 30-10-10 fertilizer. The soil ph was 6.5 and the soil nutrient analysis revealed well balanced nutrients with optimal levels of sulphur, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, manganese, and chlorine. Calcium and Nitrogen levels were analysed as slightly excessive, while boron was nearing deficient levels. Soil organic matter was 16 percent in the 0-6" depth range and characterised as High.

The forage analysis was done by Sandberg Laboratories Ltd. in Lethbridge, Alberta. The results were as follows:

Analysis as fed basis


Fertilized Barley

Barley & Vetch

Fertilized Barley
& Vetch


























Alfalfa trials were completed in Comox (10 acres) and Duncan (2 acres). The Duncan site was a rocky side-slope with the lowland portion being marginally better soils than the rest. The site was deer fenced and had some irrigation potential. Although the irrigation was applied later than desirable the alfalfa germinated and had fair growth. The site is on an organic farm and weed suppression proved to be challenging. The first season did not produce a harvestable crop but was mowed for weed suppression. At the time of this report is season two, the alfalfa had reached waist height, had 20% blooms and had just been cut by a haying contractor.

The Comox site was on level sandy soils with a pH of 6.0. The alfalfa was planted with a nurse crop of oats to help protect the new alfalfa sprouts. The dry land site germination was fair at first but with the light summer rains, later germination occurred on the remainder of the field. During the first season the alfalfa established well and the nurse crop of oats matured prior to harvest. The second season revealed a bumper crop of volunteer oats and a good crop of alfalfa. The alfalfa was grazed heavily by 20 to 30 deer daily but the majority still reached waist height. The volunteer oats diffused the grazing pressure on the alfalfa and was harvested prior to maturing so there will be limited volunteer crops next season. The first harvest in year 2 produced 320 square bales 60 to 70 lbs each. In some areas of the field the bales consisted of 50% alfalfa and 50% oats while other areas of the field had 25% alfalfa and 75% oats. Deer grazing attributed to an estimated 40% loss of production on the alfalfa, as measured by the Provincial Wildlife Compensation Program.

The grain trials were conducted by Michael Doehnel and have been summarized in a separate report.

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