There's gold in them fields: Finding more margin in forage

Thin margins may have some farmers looking to cut costs, but for croppers and livestock producers alike, there’s an often overlooked option for making money: forage.

Whether through higher dairy and beef production efficiency, or through cash sales, recent research out of Michigan State suggests that more farmers should be taking a harder look at forage production to increase their farm’s profitability.

Michigan State University Extension trials show that a well-selected alfalfa variety or corn hybrid can lead to significant production increases. The difference between a top producing and low producing variety or hybrid was as much as 50 percent in alfalfa and up to 26 percent in corn silage.

Forage feed costs can have a dramatic impact on a farm’s profitability, a recent survey out of Michigan showed. In general, top dairy farms are more self-sufficient in forage production and purchase less feed (on average 10% less in 2016, and 17% in 2015). Harvest timing is critical to get feed value just right and make the most of every forage acre.

The rule of thumb holds for Canada as well, and farmers can fine-tune harvest management to maximize relative feed value. Manitoba’s Green Gold program, for example, provides twice weekly updates on alfalfa relative feed value as it matures to help farmers make the call on when to cut.

What’s more, areas of the northern U.S. are reporting very low levels of stored dry hay, creating an export opportunity for those in the hay making business north of the border.

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