Dwight Roseler, Adjunct Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University, and Jason Hartschuh, Extension Field Specialist, Dairy Management and Precision Livestock, Ohio State University Extension
A high-performance football coach knows, the work is done in the weight room and practice field prior to the opening kickoff. Many players dread the summer two a day football practice. But the motivation was the Friday night lights and the game wins! In football, there are several chances to make course corrections and improve in season. Corn silage harvest will soon be upon us! Unlike football, corn silage harvest only has one chance to get it right during harvest! No going back for more practice. The farmers weight room work out of having quality corn silage starts with prepping the soil, proper fertility, reputable seed, weed control, correct planting, field scouting, fungicide (if needed), and correct harvest moisture, chop length, kernel processing, pack density, and feed out. Corn silage is the foundation of dairy rations, and corn silage quality is a top 5 factor in profit for dairy farms. Get it done right, no second chances!
Corn Silage Preparation - Chop Length and Kernel Processing
Silage chopper chop length and kernel processing requires regular adjustment and monitoring as usage will alter the chop length and processing rolls. Corn silage chop length will need to be adjusted by farm depending upon TMR forage percentage in the ration, forage neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and ration starch and undigested NDF (uNDF) levels. The proper corn silage chop length is critical for efficient milk cow performance. 100% of kernels need to be processed on every load. Assign your pack tractor manager as the gate keeper to make sure the particle length and kernel processing is correct and adjusted properly. Check initial loads and several loads per hour throughout each chopping day. Both variety and planting date can influence kernel size, therefore affecting processing score. Checking processing scores in each field will improve your processing consistency. On farm tests are available to evaluate kernel processing and particle length. Only one chance each year to get it right!
Safe equipment and safe people. People safety is number one and the silage safety motto from Dr. Keith Bolsen’s website (https://www.silagesafety.org/) is “send everyone home healthy and safe”. The website has resources for safety training during silage season. Silage season involves multiple equipment with drivers moving in various paths. Coordinated traffic patterns and highly visible safety vests for all workers should be mandatory. Keep small children and uninvited farm guests away from busy farm driveways.
Silage chopper routine maintenance is a given. Just do it, “always”! The safety maintenance on equipment often can be forgotten. Keep a fire extinguisher up to date. A silage chopper should have both an ABC dry chemical and a water cannon foaming agent extinguisher on board. Clean and replace worn out lights, backup beepers, and slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblems. Silage equipment should be blown off daily to keep free of plant material that may heat up and catch on fire.
Pricing Corn Silage
Corn silage is the most economical forage ingredient in dairy cattle diets based upon Sesame ingredient pricing. Corn silage typically constitutes from 35 to 60% of the total ration and is 25 to 40% of the total lactating cow feed cost. A proper economic value for corn silage is important to optimize farm income.
Three ways to price corn silage: 1) Actual production expense (fixed land cost and variable inputs), 2) alternative ingredient market value or 3) an agreed upon cost from a neighbor for standing corn silage. The information below addressed these three alternatives.
Actual production cost
The actual production expense provides a method to account for the variable costs (seed, fertilizer, chemicals, machinery, labor, insurance, etc.) and fixed costs (land, taxes, etc.) associated with the effort to plant, grow, harvest, and feed corn silage. The Ohio State Extension 2022 corn silage budget calculator values corn silage variable costs at $570/acre and fixed land costs at $390/acre for a total per acre cost of $960/acre to grow and harvest corn silage. Corn silage yield of 23 ton/acre calculates to a value of nearly $42/ton standing in the field, with a range of $37 to 45/ton varying by tonnage harvested. Your specific fixed and variable farm costs can be used to find your farm corn silage cost. The OSU Extension silage budget allows users to input their specific farm costs (Enterprise Budgets | Farm Office (osu.edu) ).
Corn silage total cost into a ration requires adding harvest, hauling, packing, inoculation, storage losses (shrink), and feed out costs. The OSU Extension 2022 custom rate survey (https://farmoffice.osu.edu) rates for chopping, hauling, and packing range from $7 to 15/ton. Industry costs for inoculation range from $0.50 to 1.50/ton, storage shrink at $4 to 8/ton, and feed out cost of $0.60 to 2.00/ton. Final in ration corn silage cost of $59/ton (range $50 to 68/ton). OSU has a new corn silage pricing tool that will be released around August 15th to assist with these decisions. Check at https://dairy.osu.edu/ after this date for more information.
Alternative market ingredient value
Alternative ingredient market value (Sesame) calculates an economic value on corn silage based upon market costs of ground corn grain, alfalfa hay(silage) and various co-products. The Buckeye Dairy News regularly publishes and archives historical ingredient values and calculates predicted prices of various ingredients. Corn silage value per ton in recent years has been predicted at $73, 92, 100 and 85/ton in years 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively. Corn grain ($/bushel) and 48% soymeal price ($/ton) in those same years was $3.70/$300, $6.00/$376, $6.45/$470 and $6.60/$435, respectively. “Home grown” corn silage is an economical and valuable ingredient into dairy farm rations. Get it grown, chopped, and packed properly.
Pricing standing corn silage
Purchasing standing corn indicates that current silage inventory is limited and more forage is required. Prior to buying standing corn, evaluate these options for alternative forages: 1) Plant a fall or winter cover crop. Spring oats, spring triticale, and annual/Italian ryegrasses are options for early August plantings. Oat and triticale can produce 2 to 2.5 ton /acre DM yield by mid-October in boot stage or possible 3 ton/acre at head stage in early November. 2) Reduce current corn silage usage and replace with optional economically priced co-products. A dairy nutritionist educated in ration software optimization can provide “best cost” pricing of byproducts that could replace some of the forage in the ration and supply cost savings over purchasing standing corn silage. 3) Reduce lactating cow or heifer inventory. Cull inefficient low-producing cows and reduce replacement heifer inventory to 75% of mature cows if expansion is not in the future.
Purchasing standing corn for silage can be accomplished in multiple ways. The agreement must be fair for both buyer (dairy farmer) and seller (crop farmer). Purchasing standing corn silage starts with determining the yield of grain of the standing corn. Then a grain price can be figured out by local cash markets, forward-contract, or delayed pricing. Add on the value of the silage fodder that is removed and deduct a harvest charge the seller will not incur. Each aspect of this pricing will be reviewed.
Determining the grain yield of standing corn can be estimated in several ways: 1) leave multiple test blocks in each field that can be harvested as dry corn for yield, 2) use grain yield estimate calculated by crop insurance, or 3) harvest the standing corn as silage. Obtain tonnage and moisture at time of chopping. Adjust total silage tons to a 35% dry matter basis. Calculate the bushels of corn grain in each ton by using the equivalent factor of 0.15 tons of corn silage harvested equals one bushel of corn grain. Another general rule is each ton of corn silage contains 7 bushels of dry shelled corn.
Add the stover value of the corn silage removed. Corn silage has roughly 50% stover on a dry basis. Value the stover based upon good quality grass hay. Every ton of harvested corn silage would remove about 400 lb of stover on a dry hay equivalent basis (15% moisture). Thus, 400 lb of grass hay at $160/ton market price would equate to $32/ton value of fodder for corn silage removed.
Remove the dry grain harvest cost for the seller since the grain producer will not be harvesting the crop as dry corn. OSU Ohio custom rates survey has a value of $10.50/ton to harvest, haul, and fill a corn silage bunker.
Example. Standing corn that yields 25 ton/acre of corn silage (35% DM). The 0.15 factor equates to 167 bushel/acre of corn grain. This factor may be low in high-yielding grain corn where a ton of silage may contain 8.6 bushels of corn. Corn price of $6/bushel generates $1002/acre for grain yield. $1002 divided by 25 ton of corn silage equals $40/ton corn silage. Add $32/ton value for the fodder and subtract the $10.50/ton for the harvest charge. Final price of corn silage per ton $40 + $32 - $10.50 = $61.50/ton.
Corn silage is a critical and key part of the production and economic return for your dairy farm. Prepare your silage team now for the fall silage super bowl game as you only have one time to get it right. Prepare the equipment, set and monitor the correct chop length and kernel rolls, keep people safety first, and review equipment safety and update as needed. Ongoing scout silage fields and provide proper fungicide application if needed. Communicate with silage contractors and neighbors on establishing the corn silage price. Have a safe, abundant, and blessed silage season.