January 24 Price of Ash in Forage

How much milk does your dirt support?

The title is simply looking at the amount of ash in your forage. Forage has minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and others that compose a portion of the ash measurement. Unfortunately, it also has a sometimes-significant amount of plain dirt mixed in during harvest. It is original dirt on the plant (raindrop splash, flooding), but mostly dirt incorporated from mower knives cutting too close and digging in the soil; dirt incorporated by tilted knife updraft, and dirt incorporated by tedders, rakes, and improperly run mergers.


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August 2023 Why Winter Forage

Over the past 25 years, we have worked on focusing the management steps for high yield with triticale winter forage.  These were summarized as recently as the July 2023 issue.  While focusing on the trees, we missed talking about the whole forest – why winter forage?  What initially started out as a cover crop, is now a premier forage in the normal part of crop rotation, for increasing number of dairy farms across the US and into Canada.  Ironically, you still have all the cover crop benefits – but with the elevated management and high yields it is a cover crop with your benefits magnified.  It is also one of the most profitable crops to grow.


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July 2023 Getting High Yield Winter Forage

Winter forage is NOT harvested cover crop.  A cover crop is a cheap seed that is tossed out and if it turns green is considered a success.  Winter forage is selected for high yield and winterhardiness; deliberately planted on time with a drill and fall fertilized for maximum yield potential. The difference between the two in the spring is huge.  The other difference is that with the higher level of management, the winter forage gives soil and environmental benefits equal to cover crops on steroids.  The benefits are far above a simple “cover crop”.


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June 2023 High Energy Forage for Organic

Working with numerous farms over the past 40 years, it has always been frustrating to see organic farmers trying to do the impossible simply because “real farmers grow corn”.  They plant the corn as high energy forage necessary for all profitable livestock production.  It is critical that it be cultivated on a timely basis or weeds will overwhelm the crop.  The result of repeated cultivation is that it loosens (super aerates) the soil which oxidizes organic matter vital to the soil’s health and structure.   Loose soil on slopes is very vulnerable to rain washing it away the most productive part.  The biggest issue is that the multiple cultivations come at the same time and in the same nice weather as the first cutting hay crop.  Critical hay harvest is delayed for the corn’s benefit.  When hay is at peak quality there is nothing on the farm that is more important than harvesting and storing that quality.  You are losing money literally by each day the harvest is delayed.  But you must cultivate, or you will not have a corn crop.


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May 2023 Life after winter forage

Note: For northeast and north central, triticale and rye are rapidly approaching harvest stage. It was driven by that short burst of warm weather.  The region is now facing extended rainy weather to delay harvest.  The silver lining is that the temperatures are supposed to be below 60 during the day and lower 40F, upper 30F at night.  When this happens the quality of the forage often holds.  I have had headed triticale with the same digestibility as flag leaf when these conditions occur.  The 12 hour NDFd may drop but the 30 hour NDFd holds. Thus the forage may still be good for high producers and excellent for the middle group.  If you are forced to make wetter forage, we suggest to chop it like we learned with  sorghum – 3/4 to 1 inch long to reduced leachate. Use a homolactic inoculant and we suggest a higher rate to make up for potentially lower sugars.  We have made perfectly fermented triticale at upper teens and lower 20 dry matter.  We don’t like hauling all that water but you may not have a choice with the weather hand dealt this year.

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April 2023 Sorghum Good Bad Ugly


The last newsletter covered the research breakthrough of enhanced nutrition in BMR forage sorghum.  Now for the rest of the story.


With the data from the 8th-week harvest, Dr. Larry Chase of Cornell University entered it into the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System model.   This gives us a prediction of how it would work in a real ration.    The ration was balanced for an 85 lb./day production level.  For the 2022 season, we went 8 weeks after heading (same as corn silage after tasseling) instead of the 6 of the 2020 season (right side of table below).  The longer enhanced nutrition of the 8th week required only 0.6 of a pound of corn meal to equal a good corn silage in the diet.  This was the same for the Pennsylvania trial and the Northern NY trial.  The 2020 study which only went 6 weeks after heading required 0.9 lbs. of corn meal.

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March 2023 Enhanced Nutrition Sorghum

The hypothesis we first broached in 2020 SARE research grant (Jan 2021 click to see) supporting the use of male sterile BMR sorghum with nutrient enhance harvest, has been validated by our Sorghum Check-Off repeated replicated research.  Normal sorghum will have fertilized seeds at the top of the plant.  The nutrients formed by photosynthesis after seed fertilization are preferentially moved to the seed sink much like a corn plant moves nutrients to the kernel on the ear.  The difference is that the seeds of sorghum quickly get very hard and are not digested in the rumen.  Their small size makes any processing difficult without destroying the forage effective fiber and turning the crop into soup.   Additional research found that breaking the seed does little to increase the digestibility and the broken seed’s nutrition is lost out of the back of the cow.  Adding insult to injury, having several pounds of seed at the top of an 8 to 12 foot stalk is a setup for lodging.  Multiple times in my research we had a high yielding crop that was completely lodged before reaching harvest maturity.


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February 2023 Caring for Soil Skin

The interface between the soil surface and the atmosphere above it is a critical juncture.  Both vital air and water must cross this boundary to supply the root system beneath the soil.  Numerous measurements have indicated that 60% of the roots are within 4 inches of this zone.  Raindrops strike this interface with the force of little bombs, exploding the soil surface into tiny particles that then plug the porosity of the interface and stop air and water from crossing.  If this wasn’t bad enough, most tillage systems are designed to pulverize the soil surface to kill emerged weeds and to provide a fine seed/soil contact for rapid germination.  This makes the soil skin more susceptible to sealing of the surface pores. Except for semi-aquatic plants, oxygen at the root surface is critical for roots to use plant energy to grow and absorb nutrients. Air moves through the pores in the soil unless they are plugged.


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December 2022 Fixing Compaction

The last newsletter covered how compaction forms in your fields.   The yield loss and increased cost for a unit of production are real.   Bigger tractors, even with more tires, and an attitude of we have to get this done, have increased the size of wet areas in the fields and turned even well drained soils into something much less.  The popularity of the vertical tillage that farmers have been told they can go on the field anytime and it will dry it, results in tremendous compaction issues.  One farm I worked with actually ripped the legs off of a deep tillage unit when they tried to remove the vertical tillage compaction.   My research crop had only rooted 2 inches deep on that farm.

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September/October 2022 Compaction

As we traverse corn fields chopping or combining, it is a key time to see if you have maximized yield.  Several times in trials on farms I found I could pull corn plants up with no effort.  The majority of roots were in the top 3 inches.   Fall soil sampling (the best time) to maximize fertilizer inputs smartly and effectively, will often show the soil limitations as the probe hits compacted layer or can’t go in the ground at all. Soil compaction impacts root depth and available water.  It can severely limit the available nutrients.  They are there but can’t be reached.  As farms and tractor size get bigger and “we HAVE to get this done” attitude, compacted soils will come up and bite you in the backside.  We often blame bad weather (too much or too little rain). Use shovel to feel the compaction and to look at roots’ growth and pattern.


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