By: Barbara Duckworth
Ontario farmers are being told they need to get back into hay production.
“We want farmers to consider hay production as a complement to row crop and cash crop production to renew soil,” said Fritz Trauttmansdorff, a farmer and founding member of the Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative.
Why it matters: Soil health can be improved if more Ontario growers get into hay production. If new markets can be generated, hay could also become a profitable diversification option for some growers.
Productivity is going down and there are serious problems with erosion, compaction and organic matter below two per cent in many regions of the province.
“The soils are so deteriorated they can barely grow anything anymore,” Trauttmansdorff said at the Canadian Forage and Grasslands Association convention held recently in Moncton, N.B.
Years of rotations of corn, soybeans and wheat are depleting Ontario soils.
The Ontario agriculture profile is changing from mixed-livestock-based farms of medium to small size to large cash crop operations and larger scale dairy farms.
Beef cattle farms are disappearing, which reduces the need for growing forages, said Trauttmansdorff.
Climate is changing with heavy downpour events becoming more common and more disease and pests in crops because of narrower crop rotations, he said.
Ontario agriculture specialists estimate every county is losing 5,000 pounds of carbon per acre per year with the exception of Perth County where soils have exhibited a slight increase in organic matter. That county has more mixed operations with more crop variety, livestock and manure for soil amendments.
Less than 10 per cent of the agriculture acreage is in forage but it should be 20 to 30 per cent.
The ministry is encouraging farmers to grow more wheat and other cereals with cover crops between cash crops to enhance soil health while still making money.
The Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative is attempting to show farmers that forages can be easy to grow and profitable.
One million acres of hay are needed to counteract bad soil, but a hay market is needed to find a home for that extra production and to encourage more growers to take up forage crops.
The co-operative has proposed a double compacting hay facility in southern Ontario. It would handle up to 100,000 tonnes of hay annually and cost about $15 million. The target markets would be Asia, the Middle East and the European Union.
Ontario producers can already ship hay in containers to the United States without difficulty, but this year the harvest was poor so business was down.