Ontario Grain Farmer April/May 2024

14 Agronomy edible beans, along with processing peas and sweet corn. He has a long history working in different crops and advises those looking to enter the market to keep reasonable expectations and understand the importance of quality. Little things like mud-tagging and splits in the seed coat can significantly impact a dealer’s acceptance. At the same time, growers need to look at edible beans not as “an early soybean” but as more of a vegetable crop. “The larger the seed, the greater the chance of damage and some dealers demand a ‘soak test’ to check for cracks,” says DonnellyVanderloo. “Generally, crans and kidneys are taken off with an edible bean combine. But it’s not unusual for a good operator to be looking into the bin for splits with whites and blacks — especially as the weather warms up — they need to mind the rotor speed.” It’s also possible to get seed without a contract, he notes. However, in a solid production year, growing on spec could increase the risk of being unable to sell their harvest. If there’s one other concern for DonnellyVanderloo, it’s the increase of herbicide resistance in weeds, particularly with Group 14 products (Eragon, Blazer), which are also used for desiccation. Losing Group 14s could be catastrophic, and that’s something all growers need to keep in mind. FORAGES PLUSES: relatively high prices (compared to corn), lower cost of production, spreading workloads, species options, high demand for overseas export markets, reduced weed, disease and pest cycles, and double-cropping options. CAUTIONS: quality conscious, need for different equipment (or custom operators), and proper storage. The opportunities for forage production in Ontario are hard to ignore. Demand — be it domestic or global — is excellent, and prices are competitive with the current price of corn. Similar to edible beans, it’s a reversal on commodities, with establishing a buyer first, then the attention to detail required to meet quality specs. Some buyers may demand a forage analysis, which may be how a target market defines quality for its end-users. “It’s almost doing things backwards, where you find your market first, and then you grow the crop,” says Christine O’Reilly, forage and grazing specialist with OMAFRA. “I don’t suggest producers start growing a hay crop on spec because most don’t have a clear idea of what target markets are looking for in high-quality hay — things like forage species or the proportions in a mix. Or what is the crop maturity at harvest that a particular market likes?” The need for proper storage is another impediment for those wishing to enter the forage sector. It’s not an option to simply tarp stacked bales since dusty or mouldy hay can cause serious respiratory ailments in horses, similar to asthma in humans. “You can drive around the countryside and see bales stored outside all winter, but those are intended to be used on the farm where they’re grown,” says O’Reilly. “When we’re targeting those premium markets, we want to retain that green colour and prevent spoilage, and the only way to do that is to store bales off the ground and under cover.” Depending on the farm’s location, there’s also the opportunity for double-cropping a shorter-season soybean with timothy. Instead of planting winter wheat in the fall, a grower can seed timothy and take a cut the following spring, then terminate the forage and plant a short-season soybean variety. A CO-OP EFFORT To help solidify opportunities, the Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative ensures more reliable access to high-value buyers. Fritz Trauttmansdorff is a Jerseyville grower behind efforts to establish stable markets for forages for nearly 20 years. He has witnessed the construction of a conversion press at Marhaven Agri, near Alma, to supply markets overseas. The plant is capable of processing 35,000 tonnes per year. “It’s a worldwide market, and Canada is one of the players in that market,” says Trauttmansdorff, adding the widening of the Panama Canal allows the passage of large containerships, creating more opportunities. “We have the same shipping rates on the Atlantic as on the Pacific.” Among the countries willing to purchase forages — whether alfalfa-timothy blends or pure alfalfa or timothy — are China, Japan, the U.S., South Korea, the Middle East and Gulf states (Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates). On a global scale, the forage market is worth up to $12 billion annually. Yet there are domestic opportunities for those who can meet quality standards: in Ontario, there are more horses than dairy cows. “Right now, if you have high-grade hay, you will get $250 per tonne,” says Trauttmansdorff, adding that 200 bushel corn is roughly equivalent to five tonnes of hay. “And a lot of the people who own horses do not grow or harvest their own hay — they buy it.” • continued from page 13