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Field Crops

Field crops grown in Prince Edward Island are classified as cereals, proteins, and forages. Cereals are members of the grass family, producing edible parts called seeds, which are food for both humans and livestock. The most commonly grown cereals on the Island are barley; mixed grain (a combination of oats and barley, grown together), spring wheat; oats; and Oatswinter wheat. Most of these are grown for livestock feed, but a small amount of the wheat is milled into flour. The province is 90 percent self-sufficient in cereal production for livestock.

Winter wheat is also a winter cover crop useful in rotation with potato production. It is sown in early September and harvested the following August. The other cereals are planted in spring (May or June) and harvested in early fall using combines.

The major protein crop on Prince Edward Island is the soybean. A member of the legume family, soybeans are included in animal feeds to improve the protein quality of rations. There is room for growth in this sector as the province imports a large percentage of the protein required for livestock rations. Soybeans are sown in May or June and are among the last crops to be harvested, usually by the end of October, as they are the last crop to reach maturity.

Forages represent a vital component of agriculture in Prince Edward Island as they represent an economical feed for beef, dairy, sheep, and horse sectors. Forages are also a useful rotation crop in potato production. They add organic matter to the soil, thereby improving soil texture and its ability to regulate moisture and air. Alfalfa and clovers are especially effective at adding valuable nitrogen to the soil. Other forage crops include early hybrid corns, annual ryegrass and brassicas.

In the livestock industry, forage takes the form of summer pasture and in winter, it is conserved as hay or silage. Hay is made by cutting forage while it is still at 80 percent moisture. It is then left to wilt until the moisture level drops to 20 percent. At this point, the hay is safe to store, as it is too dry to support fungal growth. Silage differs from hay in that it is stored at a higher moisture level (45 percent to 65 percent). The silage is stored in an airtight environment to allow bacteria to grow. The growth of bacteria creates lactic acid which effectively pickles, i.e., preserves the forage. Silage containers are easily recognizable, resembling giant white (or occasionally black) marshmallows strewn about Island fields.

While silage is highly beneficial to farmers who wish to prevent field losses from wet weather, it also helps streamline harvest processes for farms with large volumes of forage. Over the past ten years, Island hay has been an increasingly popular export to Newfoundland, England, and Ireland.

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