Corn silage harvest toolkit: 2022 edition

Submitted by Joe Lawrence

Each corn silage harvest season presents its own unique opportunities and challenges. From a statewide perspective, 2022 is quite diverse with areas of excess rainfall to areas of moderate drought. As you consider the growing conditions your farm has experienced to date, the following may help you anticipate opportunities and challenges with this year’s corn silage.

According to the Climate Smart Farming Growing Degree Day Calculator most corn growing areas of the state are tracking at or slightly above the 15-year average growing degree day (GDD) accumulation since early May. Above average heat increases likelihood of harvest before “mud” season.

Rainfall and forage quality potential

Overall, lower rainfall generally results in improved corn silage fiber digestibility. Higher fiber digestibility is a good thing. Droughty conditions can also limit yield, potentially resulting in the scenario where cows will be able to consume more corn silage, but there is less total inventory. Consider current inventories and carry over, acres harvested for silage versus grain, and options to purchase corn silage if these conditions fit your location.

Excess rainfall will reduce fiber digestibility, sometimes resulting in reduced dry matter intake by cows, which can affect the inclusion rate of corn silage in the diet. Work with your nutritionist to plan for the implications of this and what options you have for other feed ingredients to compensate for this.

For corn planted in early May, pollination coincided with some timely rain events (even in more drought stressed areas) in mid-July. This has the potential to aid pollination and ear development. We have observed in previous years where, even after a dry start to the year, timely rains around pollination and during kernel fill can improve starch yield and overall yield, helping to overcome lower stover yields resulting from the moisture stress.

Lastly, consider weather stress may lead to variation in crop maturity and optimum harvest timing.

o    Pay close attention to whole plant dry matter (DM) for harvest timing decisions

§  Record silking/tasseling dates for corn fields

§  Sampling for moisture content in corn silage fields

§  Corn plant dry down

Immature corn silage

While this season does not present the same extremes as 2019, for some areas there may be some similarities in terms of a long planting season and the possibility of some corn that will make it to the proper stage of maturity for harvest and some that may need to be harvested immature or frosted.

Corn silage 2019: Two different crops offers some ideas for managing this situation.

Safety

Corn silage harvest is always a stressful time around the farm, review Safety with your team before harvest season begins.

Storage planning

It is never too late to think about your silage storage resources. Plan ahead to ensure that storage space is adequate for the tonnage that needs to be stored. Improper storage setup and overfilling storages lead to significantly greater shrink losses. It is also important think about separating forages by quality to optimize their use by different animal groups. Review the article Strategic forage storage planning.

Harvest planning

There are a number of competing interests this year in terms of balancing forage inventory needs and potential weather-related yield challenges with high commodity prices and opportunities to offset purchased feed cost with forage quality.

·         Work with nutritionist and other key team members to determine goals for corn silage.

·         Determine forage quantity needs and how many acres are needed to meet this goal.

o    Forage acreage needs calculator

·         Forage quality and commodity prices

o    Managing forage digestibility to combat high commodity prices

o    Back of the envelope economics (Starch contribution from corn silage) (Miner Institute)

Set-up harvester for optimum performance

The corn harvester plays an integral role in optimizing your corn silage. Careful attention needs to be paid to corn silage processing score and length of cut throughout the harvest season. See our Kernel processing information series for information from a recent studied completed in NYS with funding from NYFVI.

·         Make sure the chopper is properly set up before the season starts

o    Factsheet: Corn silage kernel processing

·                     Chopper performance chances as field/crop conditions change. Monitor continuously

o    Factsheet: Effect of corn plant characteristics on corn silage processing scores

·         Set Kernel Processing goals based on green samples. Consider potential improvements during fermentation a bonus

o    Factsheet: Impacts of fermentation

Preserve every pound of DM you harvest

When there are concerns about adequate feed inventories there is no room for excessive shrink (spoilage losses). Monitor fields and harvest at the correct whole plant DM and make every effort to ensile the crop properly, particularly when using bunks and piles as shrink losses can be the highest in these storage systems.

·         PACK! PACK! PACK! – work to achieve a high density by properly packing the silage

o    Reduces shrink losses

o    Improves feed quality

o    Increases storage capacity

·         Consider the use of scientifically backed bacterial inoculants

By martha

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