Silage Surprise - 2023 Agronomic Insight

Sep 16, 2022

Silage Surprise - 2023 Agronomic Insight
It is that time of year when off in the distance you can hear the hum of the 600+ horsepower monstrous beasts eating rows of corn.  To me there is nothing cooler than jumping in the truck with my two young boys and chopper chasing as we call it.  I am sure farmers this time of year in the Wrightstown area roll their eyes as they see a truck sitting on the road side with 3 heads sticking out the window of a truck marveling at the machines harvesting the crop and dreaming that it was our crop being harvested or us in the driver seats.  
As I have been visiting with a few dairies and talking with a couple that are chopping already there seems to be some things that are standing out.  Plant health and staying green are making these fields look wetter than they are.  I don’t remember a year that I have walked into a few fields thinking that they are nowhere near ready to be chopped but as you bust open the cob you find ½ milk line kernels with plants still green from top to bottom.  As you cut the corn stalks and chop them up and see the moisture in the samples thinking there is now way these fields are ready and all of a sudden you are surprised to see the 63-67% moisture reading thinking crap it is time to go. There are a lot of factors that go into the corn staying as green and healthy as it is  but the cob in some cases this year seems to be finishing faster than the plant is drying down.  The sweet spot for corn silage is about 65% whole plant moisture with kernels near ¾ milk.  This is key to maximizing starch in the kernel but also maximizing the digestibility of that starch in the kernel and in the plant.  As you move closer to black layer, yes starch does go up but the digestibility goes down.  It could take a year on the pile to increase the starch digestibility of a black layer corn crop to match a crop that was put up at the correct moisture.  This might be a year we see piles run as we cannot just look at overall plant moisture level we also need to be conscious of what the kernel is doing.  
There also seems to be enough variability in this year’s crop.  Some fields had uneven tasseling this year which is leading to variable moistures throughout the field.  I have seen areas in fields such as better drained, hilltops being perfect for chopping and other areas in the fields being several points wetter making the farmer wondering if he should be chopping it.  This crop can go from perfect to less than ideal in as short as a week. Corn silage gives great consistency in the ration but there is only one shot to make it and put it up correctly and if that perfect target is missed the farm is dealing with poor quality feed for a year or better.  As agronomists, it is important to help our growers determine the best time to chop by getting out and walking these fields, chopping and drying some samples and be part of the team to help them put up the feed they need.

Ben Franz
Chilton, WI

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