P.E.I. dairy farmers worried about feed after poor growing season, damage from Dorian

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Source: CBC News, Nancy Russell

Veteran dairy farmer describes this as the toughest growing season in 42 years

Some dairy farmers on P.E.I. are worried about how they will feed their cows this winter after a poor growing season and damage from post-tropical storm Dorian.

Gordon MacBeath, a fifth-generation dairy farmer in Marshfield, P.E.I., said this was the toughest growing season he has seen in 42 years of farming.

“It’s been a challenge since early spring, there was a lot of winterkill on our grasses and then it was cold, wet and the forages got off to a poor start,” said MacBeath, who milks 100 cows at Goldenflo Holsteins, along with his son.

“Then of course we were hit with a hurricane and then followed by some early frost so, yeah, it’s it’s been a tough year.”

MacBeath has giant piles of corn silage that he was able to harvest, but said the issue now is quality.

“The hurricane compromised the plants and so it didn’t finish maturing,” MacBeath said.

“Corn is an energy source and the energy is in the kernel and if that doesn’t mature properly, their energy content will be down, the digestibility will be down and that’ll impact the intake of the cow.”

Lost energy

The farm has nutritionists that take samples of feed to be analyzed, then advise MacBeath on what supplements he needs to add for extra energy.

MacBeath said the expense of adding those supplements this year will be “significant.”

“Last year, our grain content in our corn silage was around 55 per cent. This year it’s 35 per cent,” MacBeath said.

“We have to replace that with another energy source, either locally which will be tough because the grain growers, their crop was compromised as well so likely, in the end, we’ll be importing from off-Island.”

MacBeath said the extra expense is necessary to maintain milk production.

“For a healthy comfortable cow to produce large volumes of milk then she’s got to have good quality feed going in,” MacBeath said.

“If your crops are compromised and their digestibility goes down, that feed will just sit in the cow stomach for longer periods of time, rather than digest and pass through and generate milk.”

Request for financial assistance

The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture has submitted a request for the provincial government to enact the federal-provincial program that helps farmers recover from natural disasters.

The request includes corn and livestock producers as well as apple growers on P.E.I.

The AgriRecovery Framework provides financial assistance to producers for extraordinary costs related to harvesting after a natural disaster.

Potato producers on P.E.I. received $15.6 million from the AgriRecovery Framework after 2,800 hectares of potatoes were left in the ground in the fall of 2018 when rain and cold weather made it impossible to harvest them.

Harold MacNevin, the chairman of the Dairy Farmers of P.E.I., supports this year’s application.

“Producers are going to be struggling to have enough feed for the winter,” MacNevin said.

“I’ve heard farms that generally have surplus feed that sell that surplus feed do not have the surplus this year to sell. They’re struggling to have enough for themselves.”

MacNevin said some producers may end up selling some of their livestock if they don’t have enough feed.

“You don’t have the feed, you can’t get the feed, you can’t get the feed for a price that’s manageable and justified then yeah, selling livestock will be the option that they’ll have to choose.”

Wait for next year

MacBeath described the feed situation, for him, as a setback but not insurmountable.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with our nutritionist and our veterinarians,” MacBeath said.

“But I think I’m going to have a more intimate relationship with my banker this year.”

MacBeath said it will be a long winter for some dairy producers.

“We can’t harvest another corn crop until next October,” MacBeath said.

“So we’ll spend the next year dealing with the challenges of this past growing season and then we’ll hope that we have a winter that our forages will come through and we can start off on a fresh foot next spring.”

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