Win­ter Feed Cost Com­par­i­son Cal­cu­la­tor – Re­gional Trends And Op­por­tu­ni­ties

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Feed prices are driven by sup­ply, de­mand and the price of al­ter­na­tives. Win­ter feed presents the largest vari­able cost for pro­duc­ers. As pro­duc­ers look for ways to pro­tect mar­gins and min­i­mize losses this fall, there are op­por­tu­ni­ties to be found in ex­am­in­ing low-cost feed al­ter­na­tives.

While the cost of some in­puts can­not be con­trolled by any one op­er­a­tion, pro­duc­ers can con­trol their bud­get for high-qual­ity ra­tions. Know­ing where a crop may fall short on nu­tri­tion is a crit­i­cal first step, and a feed test (http://www.beefre­­ing-about-feed-test­ing/) will point out where sup­ple­men­tary nu­tri­ents may be re­quired for a herd. The next step is sourc­ing nu­tri­ents at the low­est price, choos­ing from a va­ri­ety of feed­stuff that of­fer nu­tri­ent bal­ance. The Beef Cat­tle Re­search Coun­cil’s Win­ter Feed Cost Com­par­i­son Cal­cu­la­tor (http://www.beefre­search. ca/re­sources/de­ci­sion­tools.cfm#win­terFeed ) is a de­ci­sion-mak­ing tool that helps pro­duc­ers com­pare the cost of feed al­ter­na­tives avail­able in their area.

Re­gional Con­di­tions and Trends to Con­sider

The cal­cu­la­tor can be used to an­a­lyze a wide range of feed in­puts. It al­lows pro­duc­ers to con­sider unique and re­gion­ally spe­cific, cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tives. When us­ing the tool, sim­ply ad­just the la­bels and pric­ing to in­clude the feed types and prices ap­pli­ca­ble to your re­gion. The low­est cost ra­tion will vary based on lo­cal con­di­tions and avail­abil­ity, so it’s help­ful to ex­plore trends across Canada to trans­late into sav­ings. A pro­ducer in On­tario is likely fa­mil­iar with the up­ward price trend af­fect­ing corn the last three years. This year how­ever, On­tario corn is at CDN$193/tonne in July, 21% be­low last July and within 4% of the five-year aver­age. An­a­lysts pre­dict that prices may de­cline fur­ther still, based on abun­dant do­mes­tic and global stocks. With a late, cool spring, fol­lowed by drought, many east­ern pro­duc­ers may fall short on hay. Pro­duc­ers may wish to in­ves­ti­gate how this change in the price of corn could af­fect their feed costs this win­ter.

On the Cana­dian prairies, years of drought have turned around into favourable con­di­tions for pas­ture, likely to re­verse rising trends in the price of hay. Not all re­gions have been af­fected equally, how­ever. De­pressed yields in 2018 and 2019 moved Al­berta hay prices to record highs last June at CDN$177/tonne. This year, tame hay growth in Al­berta is rated good to ex­cel­lent in 93% of cases, a 37 per­cent­age point im­prove­ment over the five-year aver­age rat­ing. While an ad­e­quate sup­ply of qual­ity for­ages is ex­pected for Al­berta this year, some pro­duc­ers in the north will be de­layed man­ag­ing their crops be­cause of cool, wet weather. We can ex­pect that in­creased avail­abil­ity and soft­en­ing de­mand in south­ern re­gions may put pres­sure on the cur­rent price of hay at CDN$160.18/tonne in July. Lim­ited sup­ply and in­creas­ing de­mand in the north may keep hay prices strong. North­ern pro­duc­ers may wish to ex­plore low cost al­ter­na­tives to off­set the higher price of hay, where south­ern pro­duc­ers may wish to bal­ance their ra­tions based on an­tic­i­pated sav­ings.

While drought con­di­tions eased this spring in Saskatchew­an, some pas­tures have been left in poor con­di­tion. Top­soil mois­ture in some re­gions has been licked by wind, whereas north­ern ar­eas are see­ing mois­ture sur­pluses and flood­ing. Pro­duc­ers in Saskatchew­an have in­creased their re­liance on silage and green­feed in re­sponse to low for­age pro­duc­tion the last three years. Cooler tem­per­a­tures well into spring spelled trou­ble for canola and many pro­duc­ers again re­seeded to green­feed. For­age prices in Saskatchew­an are ex­pected to be steady as al­ter­na­tive green­feed, silage and grain should be read­ily avail­able.

Pro­duc­ers in Man­i­toba might prepare to buy more al­ter­na­tives this year, es­pe­cially where pro­duc­tion, yields and qual­ity of first cuts are be­low aver­age in the east­ern and in­ter­lake ar­eas. Man­i­toba an­tic­i­pates for­age sup­plies to be tight in most re­gions, with ex­ces­sive mois­ture early in the year pre­sent­ing a risk of fusar­ium de­vel­op­ment and a lack of mois­ture in the north and cen­tral re­gions in re­cent weeks lim­it­ing growth. Com­pound­ing ef­fects on pas­ture from sub­se­quent years of drought will limit the length of time cat­tle can be on pas­ture and con­trib­ute to poor hay yields. Low cost al­ter­na­tives to for­age are likely to be in high de­mand. For­tu­nately, am­ple sup­plies of qual­ity al­ter­na­tives are pres­sur­ing the price for those al­ter­na­tives down. The global and do­mes­tic out­look for 2020 and 2021 from Agri­cul­ture and AgriFood Canada’s Out­look for Prin­ci­ple Field Crops re­port shows an abun­dant sup­ply of grain stocks putting down­ward pres­sure on feed grain prices. For ex­am­ple, global bar­ley pro­duc­tion in 2019 broke records: last year’s world pro­duc­tion of bar­ley was at its high­est lev­els in 20 years. In July 2020, Leth­bridge bar­ley was CDN$246/tonne, 15% be­low July 2019 but 4% above the five-year aver­age. In a typ­i­cal year, bar­ley prices sea­son­ally de­cline into the fall be­fore find­ing some sup­port in the fourth quar­ter. As har­vest pro­gresses, feed grain prices may de­cline as sup­plies are con­firmed.

Us­ing the Cal­cu­la­tor – A Saskatchew­an Ex­am­ple

The ex­am­ple be­low is based on feed ra­tions avail­able on pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment web­sites*, es­ti­mated for beef cows at 1,400 lbs, mid-preg­nancy with a body con­di­tion score of three. Prices were es­ti­mated us­ing Can­fax re­port­ing and the 2020 Win­ter For­age Mar­ket Price Dis­cov­ery – Saskatchew­an (Jan­uary 2020)

In­putting avail­able feed price es­ti­mates, the ex­am­ple in Ta­ble 1 be­low shows that ra­tions based on ce­real green­feed in Saskatchew­an would gen­er­ally cost less than hay, ce­real straw or ce­real silage-based ra­tions. Based on a 150 head herd, fed for 95 days, Sce­nario 1 shows that a ce­real green­feed-based ra­tion could save pro­duc­ers over 20% this win­ter, or $5,279 when com­pared to a grass hay-based ra­tion. Sce­nario 2 com­pares a pri­mar­ily ce­real green­feed ra­tion with a sec­ond cut al­falfa-based hay ra­tion and shows pro­ducer sav­ings of 33% and nearly $10,000. Re­search has shown that fur­ther cost sav­ings can be achieved through ex­tended graz­ing, where pos­si­ble. Pro­duc­ers can in­ves­ti­gate how ex­tended graz­ing could im­pact costs for their own op­er­a­tion, chang­ing the days on feed and the re­quired ra­tion bal­ance in the cal­cu­la­tor.

Ta­ble 1 – A Saskatchew­an Ex­ampl

* Ra­tion ex­am­ples and nu­tri­ent val­ues of feed sourced from Saskatchew­an Agri­cul­ture win­ter feed­ing guide­lines.

Com­bined with feed test­ing and a ro­bust knowl­edge of nu­tri­ent re­quire­ments, the Win­ter Feed Cost Com­par­i­son Cal­cu­la­tor de­ci­sion-mak­ing tool is de­signed to help pro­duc­ers tai­lor their ra­tions to shed waste through the win­ter and emerge lean and green in the spring.

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