The East Coast's corn crop is still being zapped by drought and heat. And it's just beginning to pose challenges for farmers who'll rely on the corn silage for next year's feed.
"We've received a lot of calls from producers and nutritionists about how to deal with this year's corn silage," says Virginia Ishler, nutrient management specialist with the Penn State Extension Dairy Team and manager of the Penn State Dairy Research Complex. From a nutritional standpoint, corn silage without ears is similar to feeding grass silage, she explains. This, coupled with low-quality hay crop forage, means energy will be the biggest limiting factor from a nutritional standpoint.
But the implications of this year's poor corn crop go beyond nutrition. Persistent drought across the United States spells potentially higher prices for forages, corn and soybeans.
There's no one-step approach to ensuring profitability, warns Ishler. "It's not going to come down to formulating a particular ration to solve the problem. There is a lot more involved," she says, adding: "I know producers want that easy 'one thing I can do' approach, but it's more complicated than that."
Ishler and the Penn State Extension Dairy Team recommend producers take the following steps to meet the challenges of low quality and limited quantity:
Determine feed needs and inventory
Have your nutritionist work rations for all animal groups and evaluate whole farm feed inventory. You need to know now what you have, and plan accordingly for any forage purchases or contracting feed.
If you wait until February or March of 2012 to purchase forages, they either won't be available or the prices will be very high. "Prices that reach $70 to $80 per ton for corn silage have the potential to put producers out of business, especially if they are still trying to pay off bills from 2009 and 2010," warns Ishler.
Track income over feed costs
Dairies must do this because it's going to be more expensive to produce milk. Monitoring IOFC lets you determine if producing less milk is more economical than trying to get milk out of low-quality feeds or having to purchase a lot of feed.
Currently some herds are close to $8 per cow feed cost and they will be in trouble if milk prices drop. Dairies need to know their breakeven margin, which means knowing their IOFC.
More byproduct feeds are going to come into the picture. This means more variability and sometimes questionable quality – meaning you could be paying a lot for inferior quality feeds. Quality control and testing of byproducts are critical.
"People are asking for blanket recommendations on feeding this year's corn silage. But it really depends on what else the farm has to feed, the feed company you're working with, and the feed options available," explains Ishler. "The bottom line is having a cash flow plan for your dairy that addresses IOFC and includes a feed and crops inventory."
The Penn State Extension Dairy Team can help dairies calculate IOFC. Producers may contact their local Extension dairy educator; the Penn State Extension Dairy Team, toll-free, at 888-373-7232; or visit the Penn State Income Over Feed Cost Tool website at http://www.das.psu.edu/dairy-alliance/resources/income-over-feed-cost-tool.
American Agriculturist columnists addressed the silage quality issues earlier this week. Click on nitrogenspikedcrops to learn more from Harold Harpster about making the best of feed quality. Click on supupsilage for dairy supplementation recommendations from Vicky Carson to improve silage feed value.