Silage harvest 2021

Late rainfall in parts of the state has kept the corn green and allowed farmers more time to chop silage before the crop dries. 

As Rob Kauffman bounced around southeastern and central Pennsylvania harvesting corn silage from research plots in early September, he noticed an uplifting trend.

Even though the harvest is running a bit later than normal, he said yield and quality are surprisingly good.

“It’s one of the better years,” said Kauffman, who is a field manager for Farmers’ Independent Research of Seed Technologies. “I was in Greencastle last week and the yields were 26-27 ton (per acre), in Mount Joy it was above average, and at State College it was good as well. Farmers are using better hybrids and later rains helped it stay green.”

The buildup to a good silage season actually began in May, according to Jeff Graybill, a Penn State Extension agronomy educator in Lancaster County. Temperatures were cool when corn was being planted, but adequate moisture allowed for uniform stands.

“The potential was there through the summer,” Graybill said. “It was dry in June, but right after pollination the rains came back with a vengeance and helped finish off the plant.”

In some places there was too much rain and disease issues began to surface, but it occurred late enough to not impact the yield for silage, according to Graybill. Even the occurrence of mold being seen in the tips of ears happened too late to cause any harm.

“Fermentation in the silo will stop the growth of mold,” he said.

As far as moisture, Graybill said farmers with upright silos aim for 63%-65%, while ideal moisture for trench storage is around 68%.

“Because it’s cooler now, the moisture isn’t dropping super fast. There’s really no excuse for not having good quality silage this year,” Graybill said.

He estimated the average yield in Lancaster County at 25 to 30 tons per acre, and as of Sept. 10 farmers were halfway through the silage season.

Trying something new

In the northeast part of the state, a Mennonite dairy farmer in Luzerne County, who asked that his name not be published, was about two-thirds finished with the 150 acres he chops for silage in the Shickshinny area. He said the season is ahead of schedule this year, and like other parts of the state, the yield is strong.

“We have a 41-acre field and we got 80 loads out of it,” he said, adding he’s trying something new this year with the way he chops.

“We’re cutting about 30 inches high, right below the ear. It’s replacing the high moisture shelled corn, so we’re trying to get some extra inventory this year.”

He said the moisture level was in the upper 60% range, which is ideal for storing silage in plastic, and the corn doesn’t seem to be drying down too quickly.

It’s a welcome change of pace, he said, to not have to rush to finish silage before the corn gets too dry. Silage comprises 80% of the diet he feeds his dairy cows and heifers, with grass accounting for the other 20%.

“By chopping it high below the ear, you get earlage that is high energy for the cows because the ear-to-stalk ratio is higher,” he said. “I planned on doing it this way back in the spring because a lot of times the combines are too busy in this area to do shelled corn. This is a nice option to have.”

Season winding down for some

Most of the larger dairies in Lancaster County were wrapping up their silage season by the second week of September, Graybill said, the result of planting corn at the beginning of May. Plain Sect farmers tend to plant later in May after they take off a cutting of alfalfa and spread manure on fields intended for corn. They typically plan to start chopping silage in the middle of September, he said.

Kauffman planned on finishing the 20 acres of research plots by the third week of September in Perry County. For those farmers that were getting started in the middle of the month, Kauffman said there’s been enough rain that the corn should be fine.

“Where I live in Mount Joy, it might be the driest part of the county, but it’s still an above average season,” he said. “It has just turned out to be a decent year for silage.”

Staff Reporter

Tom Venesky is a staff reporter for Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at tvenesky@lancasterfarming.com

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