Aug. 31 2022 10:08 AM

Producers in drought-stricken areas may contend with high nitrate levels

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Now is a great time to review some of the best practices for an efficient corn silage harvest that delivers the best return on your investment. “Making that happen can be a balancing act,” says Alan Bass, an LG Seeds agronomist in Wisconsin.

Monitor crop maturity to get the timing right

“Producers should chop silage when whole plant moisture falls between 60% and 70%,” Bass generalizes, adding the percentage varies depending on a farmer’s method of storing corn silage. “With a bunker silo, you get a better, tighter pack that keeps oxygen out of the silage if the moisture is closer to 70%,” he explains. “For upright, sealed storage structures, you want silage a bit drier – in the 55% to 60% range.”

Crop stage is another major determinant. Producers using a kernel processor should target two-thirds milk line for chopping, according to Bass, who notes such processing dramatically improves feed utilization. “Those without a kernel processor should chop when the kernel is around the three-quarters milk line, so the kernel is a bit softer.”

Added considerations for producers in drought areas

Producers in areas struggling with drought may also need to adjust for high nitrate levels. Drought-stressed crops typically have higher-than-usual nitrate levels in the lower part of the plant. Nitrates ingested by cattle can be toxic. “Therefore, we like to keep that cutter bar higher in drought areas to reduce nitrates in that silage,” Bass says.

Waiting 10 to 14 days after a considerable rain to chop silage can give drought-stressed corn plants a chance to dilute any influx in nitrates, Bass adds. He also says keeping silage wetter (around 70%) for ensiling can help.

Strike the right balance between tonnage and quality

When deciding what fields to chop, some farmers pick the worst looking ones. That’s not a great strategy. “The best corn in the field usually makes the best silage, whereas stressed acres are more susceptible to disease, aflatoxins or molds,” Bass explains.

Chopping height can range from 7 inches to 20 inches, but Bass notes the lower the cut, the less digestible the silage. “If you raise the cutter bar to 15 to 19 inches, you’ll get a higher-quality silage that’s more digestible. But the downfall of that is your tonnage will be hit. It’s a balancing act for the farmer,” Bass says, encouraging producers to lean on their nutritionists.

He also notes that while hybrids bred for silage might offer good quality, they tend to lack in tonnage. LG Seeds offers silage-proven products that don’t sacrifice tonnage and offer the flexibility of being harvested for grain.

A stringent silage qualification program differentiates LG Seeds’ silage-proven hybrids, Bass explains. “We test the whole plant, the starch, the energy, the protein and the digestibility of products to determine if they are silage-proven.”

Line up help and prep equipment and bunkers

“At harvest, the faster you can fill and pack that silage bunker to eliminate oxygen, the better,” Bass says. Good help is a critical component. “Get the help lined up to get that silage chopped, packed and covered in a timely fashion,” he advises, adding that a good manager is a critical component to keeping things running smoothly.

Other steps that can help pave the way for efficient silage harvest include cleaning out bunkers and preparing equipment. “Make sure you’ve gone through the checklist for readying the chopper,” Bass says.

Take notes for future success

Record-keeping during harvest can pave the way for future success. “Collect tonnage per acre, and after it’s ensiled, test the silage to assess key benchmarks for tonnage, energy, digestibility, etc.,” Bass recommends. “Then you can evaluate what hybrids might meet your ration qualifications for the year ahead.”

Bass encourages producers to turn to their local LG Seeds agronomists or visit for corn silage questions.