Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Chinese Dairy Industry and Canadian-grown Alfalfa

There is a new trend in the consumption of a Canadian-produced commodity. The demand for fodder by dairy cattle has risen steadily in response to an explosion in China’s dairy industry. As a result of the tainted-milk scandal of 2008, “15% of China’s dairy cows were lost as financially ruined farmers sold their cows for meat”. In an effort to rebuild the dairy industry and make it viable, Chinese producers have been importing dairy cows by the boatload and building high tech, American style factory farms. In fact, “since 2009 China has become the world’s most important buyer of dairy cows to the extent that some farmers in Australia, New Zealand and Uruguay exporting their prize heifers worry that China could go from consumer to rival in the global milk market”.

Because Chinese dairy cows have been only half as productive as their American cousins, the most effective way for China to improve their lagging milk production is to replace their herds. In an effort to promote the growth of their own dairy industry, China has implemented a complete overhaul of their farming practices. Backyard farms are being replaced with government approved “group facilities known as cow hotels that are more easily monitored by inspectors and large producers are benefiting from government subsidies and tax incentives.

Factory farming lends itself to China’s limited grazing land. Cows that remain indoors in a controlled environment with controlled feeding produce more milk than their grazed counterparts. The dramatic growth of China’s dairy industry has been a boon for Canadian producers of alfalfa-the feed of choice for top producing dairy cattle.

Barr-Ag has expanded our production of alfalfa hay to try and keep pace with the increased demand for this newly expanding Chinese market. We have been hosting Chinese producers for the past couple of years that are interested in viewing our production sites and compacting facilities. If you are interested in learning more about our non-GMO alfalfa hay, timothy hay or coming to Barr-Ag for a tour, please contact us.

Barr-Ag’s head office is located east of the Canadian Rocky Mountains at 5837 Imperial Drive, Olds, Alberta, Canada, T4H 1G6. Please visit our website or call or write if you would like to speak with us. We can be reached by telephone at: 403 507 8660 or by email at: info@barr-ag.com or haysales@barr-ag.com.
References:
China Grows Its Dairy Farms With a Global Cattle Drive by Alex Frangos/The Wall Street Journal

Overview of Timothy Hay

 Timothy hay, (Phleum pratense), is the only species within its genus-Phleum- of substantial importance economically. This perennial bunchgrass, referred to as a cool-season, cold-tolerant grass, possesses a life span ranging from moderate to long. The plant’s shallow root system is located in the first 30 centimetres of soil (Gesshe, 1994) though roots have been found much deeper in feral timothy where soil and other conditions are optimal and the plant has been left undisturbed.

With long, straight stems, timothy hay reaches a height of between 1 and 1.5 metres when fully mature. (Gesshe, 1994) At the base of the stem is a bulbous looking structure known as a corm. The corm’s chief purpose is the storage of sugars which it then uses to provide the nutrition for the production of new shoots. As this new secondary crop begins to develop, it begins to take root and forms new secondary corms. From these secondary corms arises yet another set of shoots-the stage at which the plant will over-winter.
The plentiful amount of basal and stem leaves renders timothy a productive hay crop. The leaf blades of the timothy plant are flat and the seed head, which is cylindrical in shape, is located at the top of the stem. The seeds themselves are shaped like a short grain of rice encased in a hull. The hulls are compacted together in the head which can grow to be a full 15 centimetres in length (Gesshe, 1994).

Timothy possesses outstanding winter hardiness both as a seedling and an established plant and thrives in temperatures between 15 and 21ºC. While the plant is tolerant to acidity, timothy’s optimal pH soil environment is within the 5 to 7 range and it does not do well in soils that are alkaline or saline. Timothy is well adapted to heavier textured black, grey and organic soils and requires limited fertilization. With poor tolerance for flooding and even poorer tolerance for drought, timothy is well suited to the 45 to 55 centimetre precipitation zone found in western and northern Alberta. (Gesshe, 1994)

There are many varieties of timothy which are classed as being: early, very early, midseason or late. At Barr-Ag, we grow 2 styles of timothy hay. We take 2 cuts from the early maturing variety which is grown on our irrigated farm in southern Alberta. Our late maturing variety is grown on dryland on our other farms near the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Barr-Ag’s head office is located at 5837 Imperial Drive, Olds, Alberta, Canada, T4H 1G6. Please visit our website(link to home page) or call or write if you have any questions about our timothy hay, non-GMO alfalfa hay or any of our other products. We can be reached by telephone at: 403 507 8660 or by email at: info@barr-ag.com or haysales@barr-ag.com .

References
Agriculture Canada (1978) Timothy: High-Quality Forage for Livestock in Eastern Canada
Casler, Michael, D., Kallenbach, Robert, L. (2007). Forages: The Science of Grassland Agriculture Vol II
Gesshe, Ray, Foothills Forage Association (1994). Timothy Production Handbook
Langer, R.H.M. (1973). Pastures and Pasture Plants

Brief History of Alfalfa

Alfalfa, the oldest of our cultivated forage crops, is thought to have “originated in southwestern Asia with Iran as the geographic center of origin” (Goplen et al., 1987, p. 5) Alfalfa was first introduced to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. Meeting with idyllic conditions in Mexico and Peru, the alfalfa plant thrived and spread to “Chile, Argentina, and finally to Uruguay by 1775.” (Bolton et al., 1975, p. 7) Catholic missionaries brought alfalfa to Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. “Many areas were producing alfalfa in the southwestern USA by 1836. However, it was the introduction of the “Chilean clover” to California during the days of the gold rush that proved to be of major importance.” (Bolton et al., 1975, p. 7) In fact, cultivating alfalfa was usually a better paying enterprise than panning for gold.

By “the late 1800’s, alfalfa was being grown to some extent in Montana, Iowa, Missouri, and Ohio. Although the Chilean (Spanish) sources of alfalfa were well adapted to the southwestern states, they lacked winter hardiness needed for successful production in the northern and eastern states.” (Bolton et al., 1975, p. 8) Meanwhile, colonists in New England had already introduced alfalfa to their new homeland under the name “lucerne”. “…More than 100 years before alfalfa made its important entry into California from Chile, the crop had been recorded in Georgia (1736), North Carolina (1739), and New York (1791).” (Bolton et al., 1975, p. 8) However, lucerne was having a tough time thriving along the eastern states as soils are generally more acidic and the humidity very high.

Cultivation of alfalfa was largely unsuccessful in Canada and in the northern United States until the more hardy variegated strains of “Medicago media (purple-flowered M. sativa x yellow-flowered M. falcata)” (Goplen et al, 1987, p. 5) were introduced via a German immigrant, Wendelin Grimm who settled in Minnesota in 1857. Grimm persevered through the substantial winter-kill that several back-to-back brutal winters wrought on his alfalfa crops. Through the process of natural selection a resultant hardy strain of alfalfa was born. “…Grimm’s alfalfa soon advanced successful alfalfa culture into the northern states and Canada.” (Goplen et al., 1987, p. 5)

While there have been introductions of other strains of alfalfa since that time, it was the initial efforts of Wendelin Grimm in the late 1850’s that have enabled us at Barr-Ag to grow alfalfa hay near the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains . Today alfalfa is available as an early maturing or standard or medium maturing types.

At Barr-Ag, we take up to three cuts of the early maturing varieties of alfalfa from our irrigated farms. This alfalfa hay is sought after for its higher protein content. The later maturing variety is grown on our dryland properties and we harvest up to two cuts. All of our alfalfa hay is non-GMO.(See the attached article: USDA to OK Genetically Modified
Alfalfa; Good-Bye Organic Dairy, Honey, and Grass-Fed Beef? )

Barr-Ag’s head office is located at 5837 Imperial Drive, Olds, Alberta, Canada, T4H 1G6. Please visit our website www.barr-ag.com or call or write if you have any questions about our timothy hay, non-GMO alfalfa hay or any of our other products. We can be reached by telephone at: 403 507 8660 or by email at: info@barr-ag.com or haysales@barr-ag.com

References:
Bolton, J.L., Goplen, B.P., Baenziger, H., (1975) Alfalfa Science and Technology
Goplen, B.P, Baenziger, H., Bailey, L.D., Gross, A.T.H., Hanna, M.R., Michaud, R., Richards, K.W., Waddington, J., (1987) Agriculture Canada: Growing and Managing Alfalfa in Canada, Publication 1705/E
Evers, Gerald W., Sheaffer, Craig C., (2007) Forages: The Science of Grassland Agriculture