5/26/2012 10:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor
Dairy Farmers Adjust for Tight Forage, Corn Silage Supplies
The unusual weather of March and April is a distant memory for farmers as they work around the clock wrapping up their first cuttings of forages and continuing their corn planting.
The early warm-up in March followed by cooler days in April and early May challenged crops, but things have rebounded, according to Penn State forage specialist Marvin Hall.
“Some of my questionable stands are now looking great, others I replanted and the new seedlings are just starting to emerge,” he said. “Other plantings are still limping along and I may destroy them and try again in August/September.”
Farmers Jesse Bitler of Fleetwood, Jeff Barnes of Lawrenceville and Jeff Bloss of Wapwallopen said things are looking pretty good. But there have been some noticeable reductions in yields on their crops — in part due to the roller-coaster weather pattern.
In March, temperatures reached record highs, pulling crops out of dormancy. April saw little precipitation, leaving field conditions dry. Then cooler weather returned, stressing plant development and growth.
“The early start disappeared because of the dry weather slowing growth down. Most of our first-cut yields are low because of moisture stress,” Hall said.
The damage from cold snaps was exacerbated by the dry weather because it slowed plant recovery, Hall said.
Paul Craig, Penn State Extension agent from Dauphin County, said insects have emerged and caused some damage to different forage stands.
“We saw an awful lot of timothy mites. That did a number on timothy with the dry weather and warm-up, that was a one-two punch,” Craig said.
Other insects also benefited from the warmer weather, including the alfalfa weevil, and this week’s scouting reports indicate that potato leaf hoppers are showing up.
Bloss said his grass hayfields have yielded about 1 ton per acre, much lower than the farm’s production average, but he’s happy with its quality. He just wrapped up his first cutting of alfalfa and said it looks really good.
Bloss has 110 acres in corn and 115 in hay as well as a dairy herd with about 80 milk cows.
Barnes said his first haylage cutting “was half of what we normally chop from the same 225 acres.” Barnes milks about 90 cows on his farm.
The second cutting is looking good, both Bloss and Barnes said. A little rain after the last cutting had the fields starting to grow back nicely, Barnes said.
“Our stuff looks pretty decent,” said Bitler as he talked about his grass seedings. He said several neighbors have had to replant their seeding because of poor emergence.
Bitler said his first cutting of alfalfa on the home farm had below-average yields. He’s seen some fields with decent yields for grass and others come in “pretty light.” He said the small grains he’s harvested yielded less than normal.
“Yields are not what we have been used to,” he said.
Bitler’s family crops 600 acres in the Fleetwood area with a rotation of grass, alfalfa, corn and soybeans. And they double-crop with small grains. His family milks 150 cows.
All are still planting corn on their farms. Bloss said that as long as he could get a couple of good days of weather, his corn crop would be caught up.
According to the May 21 crop progress report, corn planting is 75 percent complete, 13 percent higher than the five-year average. The first cutting of alfalfa continues and is 51 percent complete. The first cutting of timothy/clover continues and is 23 percent complete.
The National Weather Service has predicted the Mid-Atlantic could have warmer than normal summer weather.
“The big thing is to encourage top-dressing grass hayfields, pasture or orchardgrass to make sure that we have abundant moisture levels to get a good second cutting off these fields” in response to the weather predictions, Craig said.
Reflecting on the prospects for field crops, at least for corn and forages, Bloss said there is a “second chance” of sorts to make up for lost ground, in contrast to several fruit growers in the area who will have to wait another year to hope for better yields.
The farmers do have one challenge on the horizon — forages. All said they adapted some of their business and crop practices to make feed extend until corn silage harvest in late summer.
Last year’s weather hit their corn silage yields and they are having to make their supplies stretch.
Barnes said he’s close to running out of haylage, but is stretching it out with some early chopping of rylage. To extend corn silage, he has upped dry hay and added citrus pulp to the ration. He has also upped the corn acres this year.
Bloss and Bitler said they have planted some shorter maturing corn to get a jump start on harvesting some corn silage before they run out.
Bitler said his family has stopped selling corn silage and reduced hay sales to just regular customers to make sure they will not run out.
Bloss said he has been feeding corn silage that has been less than ideal since March, and it has shown up in his milk check.
The current silage was harvested late because of the rain delays and was overmature and drier than preferred. Bloss said his cows’ milk production drop-off can easily be seen in production records starting with the time he opened this bag.
He admits that “it will be close” trying to make it to harvest time, and he said he figures he will have to feed 2012 silage earlier than he prefers.
If he runs out, he won’t have much of a choice.