Supporting Farmers During Challenging Times: Meeting Tomorrow’s Feeding Challenges Today

By Joe Zimbric, Crops & Soils Educator-Extension Dodge County

2019 has been a very challenging year for forage production in Wisconsin and across the upper Midwest generally. A wetter than average spring lead to delayed planting in many areas of the state, and as a result we anticipate seeing high levels of variability in the quantity and quality of this year’s forage crops. With several consecutive years of low commodity prices, many producers are ready to turn the page on 2019 after what is being called an ‘unprecedented’ growing season.

In an effort to help farmers and industry folks make sense of this difficult situation, UW-Extension hosted an event on Wednesday, September 25th titled, “Supporting Farmers During Challenging Times: Meeting Tomorrow’s Feeding Challenges Today.” The three hour event was held once in the morning at the Milhomme Supper Club outside of Kiel, and once in the afternoon at Liberty Hall in Kimberly. Both sessions were well attended, but we wanted to provide a summary of the information that was shared for those who weren’t able to turnout. Speaking at the event was Troy Brown, who has spent his career consulting in the dairy industry and who currently works as a Forage Quality Specialist for Form-A-Feed, and Kevin Jarek, who has spent his career working as the Crops and Soils Agent for Outagamie County.

With over 20 million acres of ground put into the USDA’s prevented planting program this growing season, and with hay stocks at a 5-year low, the speakers anticipated a high demand for high quality forage throughout the 2020 growing season. In particular, much emphasis was placed on how producers should deal with this year’s upcoming corn silage harvest. Due to the delayed corn maturity in many areas across the state, producers are concerned about the possibility of an early killing frost. Troy Brown’s outlook on this issue was optimistic, and he predicts that most growers will be okay for this season. However in the event of an early killing frost, the proper path forward can be a major management challenge. If the plants are killed by a frost and are still immature in the field, they will likely contain too much moisture for immediate ensiling. Plants will dry slowly and dry matter losses will increase as the dead plants lose leaves in the field after a frost. One strategy is to leave the crop in the field to dry down to an acceptable level unless dry matter losses become excessively high. An alternative approach is to chop higher on the plant. As a rule of thumb, chopping 12 inches higher than the normal 4 inch height will reduce the whole plant moisture by 3-4 points. Chopping 18 inches higher than normal will reduce whole plant moisture by about 5 points.1 Of course, chopping higher will reduce total dry matter yields. Brown recommends a chop length of approximately 19 mm. The Silage Snap app was also discussed as a useful tool that can help operators calibrate their kernel processing roller settings during harvest. Additionally Brown briefly discussed the diversity of alternative forage options that are available, including small grain cocktail blends, sorghum sudangrass, and alfalfa. Adding diversity into your crop rotations will build resiliency into your farming operation, particularly in difficult growing seasons like 2019.

Given the high levels of variability in crop maturity this year, Kevin Jarek made a strong case for forage quality testing. “If there was ever a time to get your forages tested, it would be this year,” Jarek said. As corn completes its reproductive cycle and advances towards dry down, it shows relatively large changes in forage quality (Figure 1). Forage samples can be evaluated at the UW Soil and Forage LAB, Dairyland Laboratories, or Rock River Laboratories.

We also anticipate that standing corn silage pricing is going to raise questions with many buyers and sellers this fall. Several tools are available to help folks make pricing determinations on the value of their forages, including the Corn Silage Pricing App that was developed by UW-Extension staff and is freely available to download from the Google Play Store. Another widely used resource that’s available through UW-Extension is the Farmer to Farmer Hay, Forage, and Corn List that connects forage buyers and sellers. The marketplace can be found at

Lastly, we would like to remind our readership that the month of September was National Suicide Prevention Month and UW-Extension is a resource for anyone who may be dealing with extreme levels of stress or experiencing any mental health related issues. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your local UW-Extension office for more information.

  1.     University of Wisconsin-Madison: Corn Agronomy. 2019. Harvesting and Storage.


Joe Zimbric


Office Phone: 920-386-3790

Cell Phone: 920-296-6583




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