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Bruce Lindgren, a crop adjuster from Nodak Mutual Insurance, inspects corn meant for silage in Stutsman County, N.D., on Nov. 11, 2019. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Poor harvest conditions affect silage quality and quantity

Feed quality will be a question mark for dairy producers going into the winter.

Many operations had to chop corn that wasn't mature or chop cover crops for silage. It wasn't always put up at the proper moisture, which may mean lower feed value. However, producers won't know for sure until the silage has fermented.

Dr. Randy Shaver, University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension Dairy Specialist, advises producers to get their feed tested and to work closely with a nutritionist to decide how to supplement.

"We can add more grain for energy, obviously," he says.

Shaver says dairy producers can use byproducts to supplement fiber or energy deficits in rations. He says feed value is also highly variable with this year's alfalfa crop because of widespread winterkill.

Silage quality and quantity will be an issue for beef cattle as well. Bruce Lindgren, a crop adjuster for Nodak Insurance, was appraising corn meant for silage on Nov. 8 in Stutsman County, N.D. The insurance period for silage corn ended Sept. 30, but many producers weren't able to chop their corn because of the wet conditions.

"Quite a few people had problems with getting their corn chopped," he said. "Some have gotten it chopped. They end up pulling the trucks through the field to get it done and sometimes have to have a tractor out there to pull the choppers out when they get stuck."

Silage corn is, under ideal conditions, chopped while still at least partly green, giving it the moisture to pack and ferment. The wet conditions, followed by cold, has meant fields were too wet to chop in better conditions and then it dried down in the freezing temperatures. Lindgren explained that he has been appraising silage corn for its salvage value. Some people will be able to chop the corn still at some point and make lower quality silage, while others will wait and combine it.

The problem with combining silage corn, though, is that it often is made up of a variety of maturity dates. The corn Lindgren was in on Nov. 8 had some cobs that were barely starting to dent.

Lindgren has been a crop adjuster for 20 years and before that farmed for 35. He can't recall any similar conditions in the area.

"No, I've never run into this before," he said. "We had wet, but never anything like that."

In other wet years, choppers and trucks may have had trouble getting to a field or getting stuck in low areas.

"This year, they're getting stuck on top of the hills and bottoms and by hills, wherever," he said.

Lindgren also said the wet, cool weather has been "prime time for vomitoxin," and he's seen plenty of corn with high vomitoxin levels this fall. Vomitoxin can be detrimental to livestock at high levels, so Lindgren advise people who are planning to feed their wet corn to get it tested to ensure they are within safe levels.