by SUSAN MANN
A grassroots effort to provide drought-stricken livestock farmers in Ontario with hay is winding down but the feed shortage, brought on by last summer’s drought, remains problematic, says Ontario Federation of Agriculture general manager Neil Currie.
“We knew that February and March was going to be a real critical time and it is,” says Currie, who adds the federation has been getting calls from concerned farmers since October.
Currie says Hay East expires at the end of February. The voluntary, farm organization-led program has been moving donated hay from Saskatchewan and Alberta to Ontario. Matching government funds have helped pay transportation costs but wrap up at the end of the month.
There are 375 applications but the program has only provided hay to 170 applicants. Recipients are appreciative of the donation but they’re calling back requesting additional supplies to get them through until animals can be turned out on pastures, usually in early May, Currie says.
Hay East Regina-based media coordinator Aj Thakker says AgriRecovery is supposed to take over “but we’ve seen some serious problems with AgriRecovery.”
The federal/provincial program has allocated up to $2.4 million to help farmers in designated drought areas throughout the province cover some of the cost of transporting feed to breeding herds or, conversely, moving herds to areas with surplus feed.
Thakker explains the AgriRecovery aid only offers assistance for up to 1,000 kilometres. “That mostly puts you into the United States or the Canadian Shield” — an area where hay isn’t grown. As for the United States, there isn’t any available hay there, he says, noting many American farmers have put guards on their hay to prevent theft.
Sheep farmer Dave Mackay, president of the Renfrew branch of the National Farmers Union in Ontario, says one farmer in his area had to source hay from the other side of Quebec City.
Ontario Cattlemen’s Association communications manager LeaAnne Wuermli says in an email winter feed supplies are tight but for the most part farmers are managing the situation. “A lot of beef producers looked at their winter inventories in the fall and looked at their herd and either culled appropriately or made business decisions then to get them through the winter.”
Dairy Farmers of Ontario communications director Graham Lloyd says dairy farmers are also managing the tight feed situation. At fall regional meetings in October 2012, the majority of dairy producer committee delegates said in a survey “they were aware of the potential for concern but none of them had individual concerns” about their own situation. “We have no further information to the contrary today.”
Still, hay prices have jumped dramatically to the 13-cent to 15-cent per pound range for delivered product compared to the previous year when it was five cents to seven cents a pound delivered. Corn prices are also high, hitting $7 a bushel delivered, Wuermli says.
“It’s fair to say it has tripled,” says Currie. He says he has heard of hay prices hitting 17 to 18 cents per pound. “Some of the applicants for Hay East just couldn’t carry on and they liquidated their herd.”
The feed situation may also be affecting livestock prices.
“I know people, myself included, have sold livestock and the price wasn’t what it should be and part of that is because of the feed,” Mackay explains.
Mackay says he wanted to sell pregnant ewes due to lamb in a week or two and was offered less than $200 so he declined to sell them. Ordinarily those ewes would sell for $300, he says. “There’s no feed so nobody’s going to buy $5,000 worth of feed to buy these ewes. If you don’t have enough feed for your own livestock, you’re not going to bring any new animals in.”
At the other end of the scale, in the beef industry, stocker supplies are shrinking. Wuermli says stocker prices for 2012 reached record levels with steers (600 to 699 pounds) averaging $150.05 per hundredweight compared to about $139 per hundredweight in 2011. In 2012, heifers (600 to 699 pounds) averaged $136.97 per hundredweight compared to about $125 per hundredweight in 2011, she says. BF