DUC awards farmers for outstanding agronomy

Ducks Unlimited Canada has recognized five farmers in southwestern Manitoba for establishing perennial forages, awarding them $2,000 each.

The winning farms that showcased “outstanding agronomy” include those that have the highest plant density and height, forage diversity and the absence of weeds in new acres seeded in 2013 through DUC’s Forage Program, according to a press release sent out by DUC on Feb. 15.

The program, a collaboration with Manitoba Beef & Forage Initiatives, and funded by the Conservation Trust, saw participants establish 4,2000 forage acres in Manitoba and over 26,000 acres across the Prairie provinces last year.

Manitoba’s top five forage establishment winners include: Anna and Haydn Donohoe of Malarky Farms Ltd. in Basswood, Man., located 64 kilometres northwest of Brandon; Steven Sawchuk of Rossburn, Man., 145 kilometres northwest of Brandon; David Collier of Jim Jane Ltd. in Birtle, Man., also 145 km northwest of Brandon; Kevin Bridgeman of K & J Bridgeman Farms Ltd. in Binscarth, 166 km northwest of Brandon; Gerald Wildfang of Manasseh Fleckvieh Angus Farm in St. Claude, 151 km southeast of Brandon.

The 70 acres that were put down at K & J Bridgeman Farms Ltd. had been crop land for years, said Bridgeman, who operates the horse and cattle ranch with his son. Planning had started prior to the crop year to ensure the land would be ready to grow forage, and livestock manure had been spread the year before. A light cultivation was done over hard-packed areas, and the land was sprayed with Roundup prior to seeding. Fertilizer was spread with a coulter at a rate of 10 pounds of potash, 70 pounds of urea and 20 pounds of phosphate. It rained after that, and that moisture came at the right time to get the crop started and keep it growing throughout the season, he said.

Working with DUC the whole time was a worthwhile endeavour, Bridgeman added.

“We appreciate their input throughout the process. They were knowledgeable about the soil conditions in our area and the weather situation we had experienced during the growing season,” he said.

Cow/calf producer Wildfang said that working with DUC was fantastic, and that Griffiths proved very knowledgeable.

“I took back this land last year after renting it out and I wanted to put it to forage, not cropland. I used an ordinary seeder – not an air seeder – and it worked out fine. I was also in a good pocket for rain,” he said. The land the Donohoes converted is near their dairy, and has seen many years of liquid manure spread over its acres, Anna Donohoe said. It was planted more shallow this year, and a lot of weeds sprang up.

“Good thing cows like weeds,” Anna said. “Also, getting moisture was a blessing. We are excited to graze it with our milking herd this upcoming summer.”

Sawchuk’s recipe for a successful forage establishment is simple, he said — start with you cleanest field to grow forage, seed heavy, and fertilize even heavier.

“I also sprayed my field with a herbicide to control very low weed computation that I thought might occur,” he said.

Collier’s forage establishment was seeded in mid-May of last year, with 45 pounds of phosphate with forage seed. The forage was trimmed off with the haybine at the start of July and again in August, which allowed the forage to take over any weeds that were present.

“We have had good luck in the past with establishing forage crops by following these same steps,” he said.

Rewarding producers who have made their operations more sustainable falls in line with DUC’s mission to make farms more profitable and sustainable, said Alex Griffiths, DUC’s lead agrologist for the forage program in Manitoba.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the achievements of these top producers who increased biodiversity on their land by converting cropland to grass and pasture,” he said. “We have worked with hundreds of farmers in southwest Manitoba over the past decade and established over 37,000 acres of forages.”

Farmers use perennial forages to feed livestock, while other benefits include reducing soil compaction, building organic matter in fields, and increasing water-holding capacity. Research indicates that DUC’s Forage Program is aiding in the restoration of declining populations of grassland birds and waterfowl. Perennial forages also capture and store more carbon than annual crops, contributing to climate change mitigation.

DUC’s tips to producers looking to convert cropland to forage include seeding early, applying phosphate, not seeding companion crops, seeding heavy, seeding shallow and using an air seeder or seed drill if possible. It is also recommended to seed multiple species, use seed coating, use pre-seeding weed control, remove the crop as silage, to not cut below four to six inches to ensure plant residual regrows before freeze-up, to not graze in the first year the forage is established and to insure the crop.

DUC’s Forage Program compensates participants $125 per acre to plant forages. Additionally, custom seed mixes, on-farm advice, and the opportunity to win cash prizes are available. To apply for the 2024 crop year, contact Griffiths at 204-8480514.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun