Ones Step Ahead: Product Predicts Forage Yield

CANADA - A new forage yield predictor model has been developed in the bid to aid beef producers make sound choices regarding the management of their herds. However, its makers claim that producers must react quickly to the realities of hay predictions in order to maximize their financial return.
calendar icon 30 June 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

“Early rainfall is a key driver of forage levels,” said Paul Jefferson, Vice President of the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC), the company behind the product. “We are concerned about the dry areas, especially in south central and southeast Saskatchewan. Although farmers cannot control the weather, there are choices they can make to positively affect their outcomes.”


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"Although farmers cannot control the weather, there are choices they can make to positively affect their outcomes."
Paul Jefferson, Vice President of the Western Beef Development Centre (WBDC)

For drought-afflicted areas, which may achieve hay levels well below 50 per cent of average yields, Jefferson recommends planning ahead. Producers may adapt their feeding practices through in-field grazing, collecting crop residue for feed and blending grain with baled straw to make winter rations for cows. In addition, weaning calves early will decrease the cows’ nutritional requirements over the longer term. Alternately, many producers will have to buy hay and feed. Finally, culling animals remains an option. “Herd size is an obvious factor at the producer's discretion that will reduce stress on feed supplies,” said Jefferson.

The area from the southwest corner extending northeast toward Nipawin should prepare for below average yields. The northwest corner has received adequate precipitation to date, so the region's producers likely will not have to alter their practices at all.

The forage yield predictor model was developed as Jefferson attempted to discover why yield levels have been steadily declining over time. Expected drivers include precipitation and temperature. Less obvious factors include cattle population and fertilizer prices. “Fertilizer prices, which have been increasing steadily since 1992, discourage producers from its application on hay fields,” said Jefferson. “We are not seeing nutrients returned to the soil, so yields are decreasing.” Moreover, when more animals must be fed, there is less opportunity to store.

The forage yield predictor model is an innovation that can help producers mitigate risk. “Producers can still maximize their financial return, regardless of their location within the province, ” said David Gullacher, CEO of PAMI. “While we all hope for ideal weather conditions from here on, planning and timely reaction to the measured temperature and precipitation data is a sounder investment.”

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