Winterkill losses put pressure on forage supplies

Alfalfa winterkill is widespread in areas of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas, according to last week’s USDA Feed Outllook report. University of Wisconsin-Madison agronomist Dan Undersander estimates the loss of at least 1 million acres of alfalfa in Wisconsin, with another 0.75 million to 1 million acres lost in Minnesota and the Dakotas.

For comparison, in the 2012/13 crop year, Wisconsin harvested 1.45 million acres of hay including alfalfa, Minnesota harvested 1.75 million acres, and the Dakotas combined to harvest 5.29 million acres. Thus the loss of established alfalfa stands in these states represents a significant setback to local growers, and is likely to create challenges for local dairies looking to procure forages for their herds. 

In an effort to increase hay availability, USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service office in Wisconsin will  allow producers to plant crops on acres classified as highly erodible land (HEL). Since replanting on approximately half of winterkilled fields is reportedly not recommended due to autotoxicity concerns, the opening of the HEL land to cultivation provides valuable acres on which to plant needed forage crops.

For producers who are looking to plant and/or replant forage acres, oats and peas are commonly recommended, as stands that can be established relatively quickly. However, industry sources have reported that oats, pea and alfalfa seed is in relatively short supply, thus forage rations may need to be supplemented with corn silage or other feedstuffs.