As with hay, corn silage supplies will likely be deficient this year, according to agronomists and forage specialists from around the country. As a result, corn silage prices were increasing as comments were collected the third week of August.
“A lot of our producers are feeding forage about as fast as they are storing it right now,” says Dennis Hancock, University of Georgia Extension forage specialist, of the corn silage supply in his state. Drought and high hay prices are major contributors to that.
The state’s irrigated acres have yielded “fairly well,” but dryland corn silage yields “have not been there at all. We’ve actually finished up the first cutting of silage for most of our producers throughout the state. We may still end up getting some tropical corn or some late forage sorghum silage in, but that’s not looking very promising, either.”
The consequence? Prices of around $50-55/ton of silage. “Normally we have it somewhere around $35-40,” Hancock says.
He’s already seen two dairy producers retire in the last few months. “By the same token, we’re actually right now at a pretty good milk price for our region. And we’ve had enough consolidation or loss of numbers in our state to be able to keep the price; there’s a pretty good premium right now.
“We’re actually seeing some expansion on the dairy side, primarily on our pasture-based dairies. I don’t think we’re going to see massive changes in dairy cow numbers, but I think there are select cases where producers are going to be getting out while others may be doing some expansion.”
Standing silage corn prices in central California may range from $40 to $55/ton, predicts Gerald Higginbotham, University of California dairy farm advisor for Fresno and Madera counties.
“Like everything else, it’s going to be sky-high. With the high silage-corn prices, it is also making it difficult for some dairy producers to get financing for hay loans,” he says.
Many California dairies with cropland raise silage corn and buy hay because hay is easier to transport, continues Carol Frate, University of California farm advisor in Tulare County. “But alfalfa is expensive this year, so that could have backfired on them,” she says.
Other producers who traditionally buy corn silage from growers may be having a hard time finding a good supply this year.
“A lot of farmers plant corn that has a good grain yield but also has a fairly good reputation for forage as a silage crop so they can go wherever the wind blows stronger and wherever the price is higher for them,” she says.
Growers may be a little hesitant to commit to dairies right now, says Higginbotham.
“I know some silage guys who are still waiting for money from dairymen” for last year’s crop, he says.
The health of Indiana’s corn crop – much like the Hoosier state’s weather this year – is varied, says Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension corn specialist.
“I’m not sure how many farmers will be affected because this drought is hit-or-miss around the state. You can be in one mile section and see some terribly stressed fields and then the next mile section suddenly looks a whole lot better,” the agronomist says,
Drought stress affected pollination in some cases, causing “tremendous abortion of kernels,” he says. Fields with low grain yield likely will also have below-normal silage yield and quality.
In some fields, corn plants are half the height they should be.
“Between that and the grain-yield loss, the amount of dry matter in those fields is essentially quite a bit lower.”
The season got off to a slow start for most because it was extremely wet and, more recently, turned dry, says Purdue Extension forage specialist Keith Johnson. The end of August also brought damaging hail.
“The other thing that happened in different locations is green snap of corn and then some really strange downdrafts that literally laid the crop horizontal for a bit.
“In my opinion, there’s no way that silage yield can’t be affected when we’ve got these sorts of things happening. But you can take droughty corn silage and frozen corn and make it into silage, and you can take silage with a lesser amount of grain and somehow miraculously it still comes out as pretty darn-good quality,” Johnson says.
He’s heard reports of a 20-30% loss in yield.
Standing corn silage is going for up to $60/ton in parts of Pennsylvania, says Paul Craig, Dauphin County Extension educator. But supply is a concern.
“It’s a struggle. We have guys chopping silage now just to get some extra feed. They’re selling 2010 silage out of silos for $100/ton in some spots in Lancaster County.”
Drought led some producers to start harvesting stressed corn early until rains rejuvenated fields.
By the end of August, some fields were ready for harvest and some were still four weeks away from it. But there’s little grain on plants and yields appear to be highly variable.
One field can average 10 tons/acre while another two miles away will produce 18 tons/acre, he adds.
“Overall, we’re on the short side. We have a lot of guys coming back after silage chopping and no-tilling oats into the ground to give them a bit more emergency feed this year.
“We are looking at small-grain silage to help fill in that gap. But it’s hard to make it up,” says Craig.
The usually arid western North Dakota region got ample rain, producing a bumper crop of silage corn. But it drowned out what has been the more productive areas in the eastern part of the state, says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University dairy specialist.
“For those who farm the sandy, high ground and typically struggle with drought challenges – this year they probably have some of the best corn (in the state) and maybe the best crop they’ll see in their lifetime,” he says.
Yet there were green (brittle) snap problems in the southeastern part of the state and northwestern areas that didn’t get planted. Yellow corn foliage in many fields suggested that excess rainfall leached nitrogen before the crop could use it.
Overall, that could mean a yield drop of around 20 bu/acre for grain from last year’s total. So average yield for 2011 could range from 100 to 110 bu/acre, Schroeder’s colleagues tell him.
“The corn crop put up for silage appears to be of good quality,” he says. “The challenge will be if it can be harvested in a timely manner. With high feed prices and producers needing to limit the amount of high-cost feeds that go into a dairy cow’s diet, we’re encouraging producers to incorporate precision feeding techniques and the use of processors on the corn choppers.
“We will be paying more attention to details, such as getting the corn ground a bit finer in an effort to get more out of it. It’s been well-established that with shelled corn at the right particle size you can get 4-5 lbs more milk. Input costs are so high (especially feed) that we need to seek out every opportunity possible to maximize milk yield and optimize input cost.”
It’s no surprise that the silage supply is likely to be short in Wisconsin, with increased grain prices and more acres planted to grain corn, says University of Wisconsin agronomist Joe Lauer.
“You’re looking at some pretty expensive corn silage this year,” he says, figuring $45-55/ton based just on grain prices. “But there’s also the stover value.”
To help determine a fair price for silage that considers stover value, Lauer recommends the university’s Corn Silage Pricing Decision Aid spreadsheet.
It uses a formula that adjusts for harvesting costs, shrink, quality and the fertilizer value of harvested stover.
“Whenever you make a deal, you have two perspectives – the buyer and the seller,” Lauer explains.
“This spreadsheet calculates the perspectives on both ends and hopefully they can meet in the middle. From a buyer’s perspective, you really should be interested in quality and this adjusts for that. From the seller’s perspective, he needs to recuperate his costs.”