15 month-old Ryland laughs with amazement as he looks around the rye crop planted on his Grandpa Ed Zimmerman’s farm. On May 17, 2022 it was getting close to harvest time. Story on page 3 /SUBMITTED

By Andrea Arnold

During the last week of May when they would normally be focusing on getting crops into the ground, the Zimmerman family had the opposite goal. They were working on harvesting an experimental crop they planted last fall.

In mid-September the Zimmermans planted 50 acres of Progas Hybrid Fall Rye.

“It came up about three inches in the fall but then the deer chewed it off before winter,” said Eldon Zimmerman. “Again, in the spring, we had about 70 deer that ate it off clean to the ground, until about 4-5 weeks ago when it really took off.”

The Zimmermans started cutting the rye crop on May 27. The crop lay drying in the sun for at least 24 hours before the next step in the process turned it into silage. /SUBMITTED

The Zimmerman’s had heard about the seeds through their seed supplier Union Forage. The product claimed to have as high as 90 per cent digestibility as well as 16 per cent protein in the leaves.

“This means it is very usable to the cow,” said Zimmerman. “Some forages are much lower—60-70 percent—with more just bypassing through the animal. It is not used in the cows’ rumen to make body fat or milk production.”

Some of the other factors that led the Zimmermans to give the seeds a try was the claim that it wintered better than other winter crops, and that it is ready for harvest three weeks earlier than other perennial crops.

“We decided to try to get more tonnage per acre per year,” said Zimmerman. “As well as to get highly digestible, high protein feed for the cows to eat during the summer months.”

From the 50 acres planted in September, they were able to harvest about 180 tonnes of high quality silage for cow feed.

On Wednesday, June 1, the rye was chopped into silage and transported to the farm for storage. /ANDREA ARNOLD
When the silage was unloaded, it was immediately packed down using the tractor to remove oxygen from the mix. This process helps prevent spoilage. The 180 tonnes of feed will be stored until it is needed for the cows. /ANDREA ARNOLD

The field they used for this test crop of rye has been used as a pasture in the past few years. It is cycled through their crop rotation system that provides the soil with time to regenerate. 

“When we work up a field after a few years of it being in sod, we like to seed a few annual crops,” said Zimmerman. “We do this until the soil breaks down and also to add humus and organic matter to the soil, then we seed it back to perennials.”

Following this harvest, their plan is to plant a second grain, barley. Getting two grain crops off the same field in one year in the Robson Valley is very rare. It is a common occurrence in warmer climates, but here in the valley, farmers are lucky to get two full hay crops off before the weather turns. The Zimmerman’s are hopeful for a second successful grain harvest this fall.