2020 harvest: How did it go?

Posted on October 16, 2020 in Forage Foundations
Across most of the Midwest, corn silage harvest is complete. Vita Plus staff across the area provide a quick recap of this year’s corn silage harvest and a preliminary quality assessment.

Bryan Knoper (Central Indiana/Ohio) – October 15
This fall, in the central Indiana/Ohio areas, we did not have to deal with mud, which was a welcome relief compared to last season!  Corn silage tonnage ranged from 9 to 32 tons per acre, largely due to rain coverage, and yields are estimated at 20% higher than average.  As such, bunkers and piles are taller than normal this year.  With lingering memories of winterkilled alfalfa and high-priced western hay, having more homegrown forages in the bunker is yielding greater peace of mind for many of our customers.

A snapshot of 2020 conventional corn silage quality so far reveals 48-hour neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) values averaging around 51%, 240-hour undigested neutral detergent fiber (uNDF) values averaging around 10%, and starch levels averaging around 33%, according to samples submitted to Rock River Laboratory, Inc.  Cows are milking above average with adequate components as well.

One interesting trend to note in this area, over the last couple of years, more dairy producers are chopping their own forages and choosing not to hire custom harvesting crews.  Two main drivers of this transition are harvest timing to achieve ideal dry matter and consistent kernel processing results.

Laura Zagorski (Eastern Michigan) – September 25
As I write this article, eastern Michigan is on the verge of finishing up corn silage harvest.  After a period of what seemed like endless days of rain the first half of the month, the weather finally straightened out for harvest to begin.  Most producers have been pleased with how their corn silage crops turned out.  Despite select pockets of the state that were much drier this summer, tonnage has averaged around 25 tons per acre.

Nutritional values on fresh corn silage samples have also been great thus far.  On average, starch levels have been in the mid-30% range, and fiber digestibility looks to be excellent this year with average 30-hour NDFD values running in the high-50% range.

I will also note that whole plant moisture levels have been ideal at harvest across most of the area, but kernel moisture did get quite dry in many places.  In those areas, optimal kernel processing was a priority to break up the dry kernels.  At this time, we do not anticipate mycotoxins being a challenge this year.

Nathan Hrnicek (Midwest/Texas/Colorado/Kansas) – October 14
Greetings!  I hope this has been a wonderful, safe and exciting harvest season for all of you.  Across most of the geographies where I work with producers, corn silage is done and, by most reports, it has been a good year.  Sample qualities have come back very good in most areas, and I believe that correlates to the drought stress many crops experienced during July.  Despite the presence of some drought in these areas, starch levels have been less than ideal, around 28% to 32%.  Other areas that had plenty of irrigation produced very nice crops with NDFD values between 56% to 59% and starch between 40% and 44%.

In the Midwest, the corn experienced some drought stress in a few areas, but NDFD has been running a little above normal, around 54% to 56%, and starch around 35%.  I look forward to evaluating qualities and seeing how these forages feed in the near future.

Jon Rasmussen (Eastern Wisconsin) – September 25
While it is early to determine the actual quality of the 2020 corn silage crop, a quick summary of early samples sent into our forage labs show mostly ideal moisture levels, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) in the mid- to upper-30% range, and starch values in the mid-30% range.  If this holds true, we should be looking at a good quality corn silage crop in the Midwest.  We will know more as we are able to sample fermented corn silage piles in the coming months.

Regionally, eastern Wisconsin will likely see great variation in the quality of the 2020 corn silage crop. Harvest was interesting as a good amount of corn was set to be chopped in late August due to late-season drought-like conditions.  Then, in early September, most of the area received a good amount of rain that allowed the plants to mature and improve starch values before chopping.  Harvest yields varied from about 10 to 30 tons per acre, which was largely a result of field compaction that occurred during the 2019 harvest.  This will create some quality questions until we get to sample the specific crops.

Steve Murty (Iowa) – October 19
This year has been filled with extremes.  Many producers got an early start with planters rolling in April.  In my area, we experienced several wind events and localized flooding rains in the first part of June.  Once the rain and wind stopped, dry weather consumed the area for 100 growing degree days.  This stretch of dry weather aided in the production of very high-quality second- and third-crop alfalfa until the dry weather started to depress yields.

Corn silage harvest came early this year following the derecho storm on August 10.  Producers that were prepared to get silage done earlier have found better quality feed in their bunkers because moisture content was ideal.  Overall starch content is lower this year because grain yields were lower, which was affected by the adverse weather events.  Nutritionists have stated uNDF values are higher even in BMR varieties because of damaged or drier crops.  Silages that were harvested at ideal moisture levels are feeding fine.  Many producers will be challenged to feed an entire year of less-than-ideal silage at higher consumption rates to meet nutrient demands.

Barry Visser (Central Minnesota/Eastern South Dakota) – October 8
Corn silage season in central Minnesota and eastern South Dakota was, by most accounts, a big success.  Although we had some scattered rain showers, harvest was much less stressful than in the past couple of years in terms of mud and field conditions.

Whole-plant dry down was also closer to “normal” this year for most farms with kernels at the half to three-fourth milk line at chopping.  Kernels hit the black layer for some varieties where fungicides or other plant health strategies were implemented.  Early in the chopping season, it became apparent that silage was going to juice more this year, and Dr. Michelle Chang-Der Bedrosian, Vita Plus forage products and dairy technical services specialist, explained it was a difference between endogenous and exogenous moisture.

2020 corn silage quality has been variable.  For the most part, fiber digestibility levels are very good and have exceeded my predictions for a warm season with rapid growth.  We are seeing 30-hour NDFD values close to 60% for many conventional varieties and in the upper-60% range for BMR varieties.  Conversely, uNDF values on most silages have been lower than average.  Most farms reported yields well above average, with numerous reports of 25 to 30 tons of corn silage per acre.  Corn grain yields drove these yields with above average starch values.  We are seeing starch values in the upper-30% to lower-40% range on several conventional varieties, and BMR varieties are pushing into the mid-30% range.

Category: Feed quality and nutrition
Forage Foundations
Forage harvesting