Current Conditions: How Much Silage Will the Season Yield?

Current Conditions: How Much Silage Will the Season Yield?

Regardless of the forage being harvesting for silage, the big question is how much yield will come out of fields this season, given the tumultuous weather Mother Nature has handed U.S. farmers and ranchers this year.

“We just don’t know right now how much silage we are going to be able to harvest, so it’s going to be important to make the most out of what you do have, which means trying to reduce shrink,” said Hugo Ramírez, assistant professor at Iowa State University. “This starts by having a pre-harvest planning meeting now, so your team has plenty of time to prepare for harvest.”

A few key items to include on your checklist that can help reduce losses during harvest:

Apply an inoculant at the chopper to promote fermentation and improve dry matter recovery
Sharpen knives on the chopper
Check kernel processor condition and calibrate the inoculant applicator – checking the pumps, pressure gauges, tubing, etc. to ensure everything is in excellent working condition
Plan to use an oxygen barrier to help cut top-surface losses by 40 to 50 percent
“If growing 110-day corn and you planted two to four weeks late, your corn may catch up and harvest might be slightly, but not seriously, delayed,” said Ramírez. “For those growers who planted five to six weeks late, it’s going to be very important to watch the milk line. Ideally, corn for silage should be harvested at 2/3 to 3/4 milk line. As the harvest time approaches, producers would benefit from cutting a few plants in the fields every two to three days for a week to measure dry matter content and determine dry-down rate.”

The target is 35 percent dry matter but a range of 33 percent to 38 percent dry matter is realistic. It’s critical to closely monitor dry matter to harvest the highest quality silage possible.

For alfalfa growers, there has been a lot of winter kill reported across the Midwest. Mid-August is the time to reseed fields in the Midwest. This timing allows for plants to develop a root system capable of overwintering. Now is the time to begin planning for reseeding.

“This is an excellent year to consider cover crops as an alternative forage if silage supplies happen to run low, and there are several options that can follow corn silage,” said Ramírez.


Southeastern US Faced Short-term Drought

“While the Midwest has been getting deluges of rain, parts of the Southeast went through a period of severe drought for five to six weeks,” said Francis Fluharty, Animal and Dairy Science Department Head at the University of Georgia. Despite the dry spell, the corn crop in Georgia looks on-target for a good season.

“The bigger concern lies with the hay crop – normally, we’d be working on a second cutting right now but there wasn’t enough moisture for the first cutting of hay. Our grasses require warm temperatures before they really start to grow, and they require rain,” he said. “We’ve had substantial rains recently, so the hope is that these warm-season grasses take off and it’ll be possible to still get a get a good hay or baleage crop off the field.”

A tip for farmers making baleage: if you cut later in the day versus the beginning of the day, forages have higher sugar content because they’ve gone through photosynthesis throughout the day.

“My biggest concerns for the beef industry right now are how much feed can we get out of the fields and how much of it will be high starch?” said Fluharty. “Corn silage is about 50 percent grain and 50 percent forage on a dry matter basis which makes it a great growing feed for Midwest farmer feeders. If you look at the number of cattle that are now fed east of Nebraska in the Corn Belt, it’s increased as we’ve increased ethanol production.”

Farmer feeders are utilizing a lot of dried distillers grains (DDGs), but DDGs don’t have any starch. The new generation of distillers grains facilities remove the oil, so they don’t contain the energy they used to, he said. They’re no longer 11 percent to 13 percent fat, rather the new generation DDGs are 2 ½ percent to 4 percent fat. Fluharty questions where the energy from starch will come from to produce more protein in the rumen for muscle growth and for marbling?

“What happens next year really depends on corn production of this late planted corn throughout the fall. I’m concerned if we can get enough growing degree days available to harvest enough forage for producers to make it through the season,” he said. “I think a lot people are worried we could have an early nationwide frost which could impact corn silage and corn grain quality and yields.”

Francis Fluharty, University of GeorgiaHugo Ramírez, Iowa State University 

Headline image courtesy of Hugo Ramírez

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