Forage Disaster Leads to Heavy Dairy Culling

15:08PM Jun 03, 2013

Winterkill of alfalfa and a wet spring that has delayed or prevented planting means dairy farmers in the southeast quarter of Minnesota are running out of feed fast.

In fact, the Lanesboro Sales Barn 30 miles southeast of Rochester reports much heavier than normal culling of dairy cows, with several whole herds being offered for auction as feed supplies run out. Another herd is scheduled for dispersal this Friday.

Duane Alberts, who farms with his brother near Pine Island, 15 minutes northeast of Rochester, lost 400 acres of alfalfa to winterkill. A neighbor lost 900 acres, he says.

"And we can’t plant emergency forage sorghum yet because the soil temperatures have not reached 60°F," he says. What little alfalfa he does have—20 acres or so--is being harvested today.

"It’s a record for our farm. We’re planting corn and chopping hay on the same day. That’s never happened before," he says.

Tom Anderson, a dairy management instructor with the Riverland Community and Technical College in Albert Lea, Minn., calls the situation an outright disaster. "Eighty percent of the hay crop is lost. The tons of hay that are needed just won’t be there," he says. "I have one farmer who has six days of hay left, and then he’s out of feed."

The rules for Federal crop insurance aren’t helping. If farmers take the no-plant option, they are not allowed to harvest cover crops from those acres until November 1. But that means feed quality will be low and forage won’t be available for another five months. "Right now, we just need forage," he says.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres might be another option. But that would require Federal action and a waiver of the provision that prevents harvest prior to bird nesting dates.