The value in a timothy-soybean double-crop rotation

Pure timothy has some demand around the world, but a way to make it profitable had to be found

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Proponents of double-cropping soybeans and pure timothy in Ontario have attracted additional interest this fall after they grew some successful plots this year.

The Ontario Hay and Forage Co-operative reports that in one of its farmer’s trials, timothy planted after 2017 soybeans, yielded 5,500 pounds per acre. Soybeans planted after the timothy was harvested the next spring and yielded 55 bushels per acre. The co-op said that means crop value of $1,400 per acre over the year.

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Why it matters: As part of a hay mix, timothy is standard in Ontario, but buyers in the horse and dairy markets overseas will pay premium prices for good-quality, pure timothy.

According to Hay and Forage Co-operative chair Fritz Trauttmansdorff, not only does timothy/soy double-cropping make economic sense, it also makes sense from a soil health perspective.

“One of the best rotations we have is alternating between legumes and grasses. And that’s what you have here.”

Trauttmansdorff, who farms near Jerseyville, was among about a half-dozen growers who planted timothy in the fall of 2017 into fields recently harvested from soybeans, using an airflow drill at about 10 lbs. per acre of seed. Other growers were located in Wellington County and Norfolk County; in all, he’s aware of almost 400 acres of timothy/soy double-cropping started in the fall of 2017.

In the spring of 2018, the timothy was cut, dried and baled. And soybeans were once again planted into the field. Trauttmansdorff said he’ll continue with that on-off rotation for a couple of years, then switch to another crop in the field.

“Pure timothy is not grown much in Ontario, because you generally only get one cut of good quality,” Trauttmansdorff noted. To make it into a higher value crop, these producers decided to explore planting an early-maturing timothy to take advantage of the heavier first cut, and hopefully harvest it in good time — ideally, no later than June 15 — still time for a good crop of soybeans to be planted.

“You basically treat the timothy like you would winter wheat, in terms of fertility,” he said.

“A few guys did it with good results, especially if they got it in early. For some of the other guys, it didn’t turn out so well.”

Timothy hay is becoming more popular around the world and Ontario producers are looking at how to fill the demand.
photo: Chris Martin

The timothy needs to be in the ground by the end of September, he stressed. “A few guys have been calling into October (this year) wondering about seed and I’ve been telling them it’s too late.”

That increased interest appears justified. The 2017-18 results proved promising, Trauttmansdorff said. And this fall, about a dozen other growers planted timothy after soybean harvest.

Although he also reports that, on his own Haldimand County farm, a bunch of timothy seed remains in the bag waiting until next year because it was too wet to harvest all the soybeans in time for early-planted double-cropping.

The 2.5 to 3.5 tonnes per acre on the timothy is likely worth between C$800 to $1,000 per acre, he said. Add in this year’s soybean yield of 55 bushels per acre, and “your gross potential is considerable.”

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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