Dry summer, poor crop prices affect corn silage yields

Back and forth, pushing and packing. This is how Jason Feldhaus, a partner at Reisch Farms near Howard, is spending the last few days of August and into September -- packing corn silage. "I always joke you could drive 100 miles, but never move mo...

John Reisch cuts corn on a field Northwest of Howard earlier this month. (Matt Gade/Republic)

Back and forth, pushing and packing.

This is how Jason Feldhaus, a partner at Reisch Farms near Howard, is spending the last few days of August and into September - packing corn silage.

"I always joke you could drive 100 miles, but never move more than 150 feet," Feldhaus said.

By the time Feldhaus had one load of silage pushed and packed into the bunker using his tractor, a truck carrying another load of corn silage appeared. And the process started again.

The truck was coming from another field, where another tractor was using a silage chopper to cut down corn.


Like Reisch Farms, more producers in the area are chopping corn for silage this year due to the dry summer and low corn prices, according to Taylor Grussing, a cow/calf field specialist with the Mitchell Regional Extension staff.

"The drought is one of the main reasons that cow/calf producers are chopping corn as it took a toll on this year's crop," Grussing said. "This along with the low price of corn and high basis in the area, it is difficult to meet your breakeven and be profitable."

Because of lower corn prices, Feldhaus said Reisch Farms will be cutting a little bit more corn this year than normal. But not only are they cutting more, they are also cutting earlier than usual.

Feldhaus said normally they start cutting corn after the South Dakota State Fair, which serves as their guideline. This year, they were done by the time the fair started. Spring started earlier than normal, and because of the dry conditions, Feldhaus said, the crop maturity was pushed.

"The thing is the yields on the silage is not what it normally is, because the corn yields aren't there. So we have to cut more acres than we typically do," Feldhaus said. "And because of the dry weather and different varieties, hybrids of corn, we're cutting some of what we consider our poorer corn."

As Feldhaus was pushing and packing the silage, he said it is important to pack it tightly while it ferments or else the corn silage could spoil.

Proper maintenance and safety need to be considered when managing silage piles, Grussing said, and the silage should be allowed to ferment for 40 days before use.

Grussing said there is a relatively small window of time when producers need to decide if they will chop the crop for silage or keep it for grain.


The plant should be between 35 and 40 percent dry matter, meaning it is 60 to 65 percent moisture. This will create the desired fermentation process, according to Grussing, that is required for the ensiling process after packing and covering the silage pile.

The SDSU Extension and the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management created a tool for crop producers and livestock feeders to use when estimating silage costs. The calculator-like tool allows producers to enter in their own numbers regarding corn price, silage yield, dry matter, harvesting and drying costs and value of stover removed.

Chopping corn for silage captures the high energy content of corn grain, along with high roughage components of leaves, husk and stalk, Grussing said. If stored properly, she said, it can be a high quality feed for cattle.

Because corn silage is high in energy and palatable, Grussing said corn silage is good for young, growing cattle to consume. Corn silage is also good feed for cattle over winter time. Grussing said because it is packed with nutrients, cows eat less total pounds to get the nutrients they need. This especially important near calving time, when fetal growth is increasing.

For Reisch Farms, Feldhaus said the cattle really like to eat the corn silage. And with corn prices fluctuating, chopping the crop for silage instead of selling for grain, is worth more.

Feldhaus said when the entire corn crop is cut down, some of the nutrients are taken from the soil, meaning a little more money is spent on fertilizer.

Each producer is different, Feldhaus said. There is no set standard and ultimately the decision to chop corn for silage is up to each producer.

"Everybody uses it a little bit differently," Feldhaus said. "That's the thing with farming."


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