Regional reports: The state of forages across the Midwest
Vita Plus consultants from Minnesota to Ohio share their observations of the 2021 growing season and what they anticipate for this year’s corn silage harvest.
Kate McAndrews, central Minnesota
It’s been a rollercoaster season of ups and downs and all-arounds. Alfalfa yield has been light to moderate. The variation in soil types and rainfall has really shown up in lack of tons, but, if plant maturity was monitored, the alfalfa feed quality has been high due to shorter stems. Early insect pressure was also a contributor to poor tonnage.
Corn seed went into the ground during a dry spring and learned to spare the moisture it has been given. It was challenging to plant behind cover crops this year. The cover crop took what moisture was in the ground this spring and has halted the following crop from growing until some of the recent rains.
Some areas received some rain during the early corn plant growing phase while others did not, and then those areas have recently received rain while the earlier areas haven’t. Pollination occurred for the most part; some regions and even some parts of fields were delayed where pollination may not be complete.
Corn silage harvest may begin here at the end of August. Those areas that received the recent rains during corn pollination will see a boost in yield while dry fields will yield less. Overall, we believe we’ll come up with a third less total corn silage yield this season. This year, it will be even more important to measure total plant moisture at least a couple of times to follow plant maturity more closely and reliably. This corn silage harvest may present kernels that are more difficult to process farms may need to start feeding this year’s corn silage earlier than ideal. However, fiber digestibility may be improved due to smaller and shorter stalks.
Ashley Blackburn, central Wisconsin
The crops in central Wisconsin had some early stress. A late frost in April was followed by warm and dry weather for most of May. It snowed at the end of May and warmed up again in June.
This year’s alfalfa harvest has been good. First-cutting quality was a little low, but tonnage was good and overall alfalfa tonnage has also been good.
Corn looks good so far as we’ve caught rain during the grain fill period. Some corn started tasseling at the beginning of July and the majority tasseled in the second and third weeks of July. The rule of thumb tells us corn silage harvest will start approximately 45 to 50 days after tasseling, which puts us at early to mid-September. If that’s the case, this year’s harvest will be early compared to the previous couple of years.
Lauryn Krentz, eastern Wisconsin
Eastern Wisconsin, on average, has seen a good growing season so far for both haylage and corn silage. Hay fields have yielded great tonnage overall with a fair bit of opportunity to make dry hay as well as marsh grass. Second crop took a bit of a hit on quality and tonnage in some areas with a lack of rain, but there is still a good amount of haylage inventory out there.
For the most part, the corn crop is looking very strong and should yield well despite an early-summer drought. Based on when corn started tasseling, we’re projecting the bulk of the corn silage crop will come off toward the very end of August into the early weeks of September.
Augusta Witt, northern Illinois
The crops this year are very dependent on location – some are extremely short of rain and others (less than 15 miles apart) are flourishing. It appears the corn silage will be ready before we know it, likely by the end of the month or shortly thereafter. The corn looks shorter than previous years’ crops, so tonnage may be different from the past.
It’s hard to believe that some producers already had fourth crop alfalfa in the bunker at the beginning of August. For farms that received rain, it looks promising that they’ll be able to take a fifth cutting. We’re thankful for that as it will allow them to build up some inventory.
Steve Good, eastern Michigan
2021 has been a good growing season in eastern Michigan. Our region was classified as a drought area with a very dry January to May. Crops were planted very early with alfalfa in late March and corn and soybeans in April. We received just enough rain for good germination on all crops. May rolled around and brought several frosts and freezes, but everything pulled through that challenge. Around mid-June, the rain came and crops exploded with growth.
Alfalfa quality and quantity are above average; we will see yields of potentially 6 to 7-plus tons of dry matter (DM) per acre versus an average of 5 tons.
Corn is excellent with potential yields around 275 to 300 bushels per acre versus our average of 190 bushels per acre. Corn silage harvest is targeted for the end of August and has the potential to yield 7 to 10 tons DM per acre versus an average of 6 tons. Sugar beets are on track to have above-average yields and Michigan should have a good supply of beet pulp.
Dr. Owen Mickley, Ohio
We have had an above-average year for quality and quantity of our hay silages. Wet and cool weather early in the spring interrupted planting and small grain harvest. Some corn planted during that time isn’t the best. Overall, we expect corn yields to be average to above average, and a couple more rains will help. Quality is the million-dollar question. Farms in southern Ohio will likely start harvesting at the end of August. A good portion of corn silage harvest is on target to start in early to mid-September.