Forage Road Trip – November 1, 2016
|By Hay and Forage Grower|
Visits to Idaho, New York, and Wisconsin
Several inches of rain have made harvest this month a real challenge. A significant acreage of last cutting was either put up a little wet, or is about worn out from turning between rainstorms. Some growers are considering mulching the remains since they would avoid harvest costs for unmarketable hay.
Soil compaction from hay and corn silage harvest will be a problem for next year. A positive outcome is that irrigation water carryover is improved significantly. Range and pasture conditions have improved as a result of the rain and moderate temperatures.
When I ask hay producers about hay stocks, they report an abundance of hay. Some producers will drastically reduce acreage this fall.
Late October rain improved long-range crop prospects for most of New York. Fortunately, many of the driest areas of the state got the most rain from a three-day rain event, some over 5 inches. While the rain came much too late to save the drought-stricken corn crop in the hardest-hit areas, it provided much-needed deep soil moisture recharge.
Freezing temperatures held off until late enough that farmers were able to complete corn silage harvest with few problems. Corn yields varied widely across the region, mostly due to the drought, but silage quality is generally quite good. In parts of northern New York, soybean harvest was delayed for various reasons, and the recent heavy rains may make combining this crop a muddy mess.
One way to approximate corn yields from the seat of a pickup truck (also known as the “windshield survey”) is by looking at the acreage of corn remaining after dairy farmers finish silage harvest. Many farms plant more corn than they expect they’ll need for silage, leaving the rest for grain harvest. Low yield resulted in a number of these dairies harvesting their entire 2016 corn crop for silage. This could have long-term consequences since even after harvesting the entire crop for whole-plant silage there won’t be enough inventory a year from now to allow farmers to delay feeding new-crop corn silage until starch digestibility is higher.
Hay crop inventories were improved by favorable late-season weather that permitted a fall harvest of alfalfa and alfalfa-grass. First and last cuttings were generally okay, but second and third harvests were severely impacted by dry conditions. Much of New York received only about one-third of normal rainfall in May through July.
Wisconsin has great supplies of forage. We had above-average carryover from last year and are likely to have record-high hay and haylage yields this year. Unlike areas to the east or west that were dry, Wisconsin had timely rains all summer. In fact, the most common question I got late summer was, “What would happen if I simply did not cut my alfalfa any more this year?” This was particularly true for those who custom harvested. One farmer said, “Why should I spend $10,000 for harvesting the alfalfa if I don’t need it?” There is no problem not harvesting alfalfa; the residue will not hurt the stand — though grasses and alfalfa fields with more than 40 percent grass should be harvested late in the fall to avoid matting. So, a number of farmers quit harvesting alfalfa after August 1 and greater numbers stopped harvesting as the season progressed.
The other good news is that forage quality is generally good. One laboratory reported that dry hay was running about 160 RFV and haylage was slightly less at about 145 RFV. The same laboratory reported that TTNDFD is running about 48 for dry hay and 44 for haylage. I believe that the limitation to forage quality of alfalfa this year was leaf diseases and resulting leaf drop that occurred due to the cool, wet season.
The only downside is that some flooding of fields occurred with the heavy October rains in western Wisconsin. We are encouraging farmers to check flooded alfalfa fields for root rot but may have to wait until spring to do a thorough assessment of damage.
Corn silage was generally harvested in a timely manner. Yields were good, though possibly less was harvested due to high haylage inventories. This effect on corn silage harvest was offset to some extent by low corn grain prices. We will have to wait to see what the forage quality is. Initial indications are that it is as good as last year, but some mold problems did occur.