By Dan Martens, Guest Columnist
Rain during the last week to 10 days provided some relief to some crops through central Minnesota in various amounts. Crops are at a lot of different stages.
Some scorched corn crop may not benefit much from rain anymore. Pollination may have been hurt for some corn. There is a large amount of corn, soybeans and hay crops that will benefit significantly from recent rains.
Where crops are starting to deteriorate, like corn turning brown, some farmers might think about saving some other stored feed and starting to chop some of this corn. For anything you might do with the crop, for those carrying crop insurance, have a good discussion with your crop insurance rep first.
For day to day feeding, I’d think about the following:
Make ration changes gradually. While animals are dealing with summer heat, don’t make sudden radical ration changes that could cause them to go off feed or have digestive upsets. It takes time for the rumen microbe population to adjust to different feed materials. Chop fresh each day.
Test drought stressed corn for nitrate-nitrogen concentration. Don’t assume it’s OK. Don’t assume it’s bad. In some cases where the corn has not been able to take up water for a long time, it may not have been able to take up much nitrogen either. Nitrate nitrogen levels might be higher following a rain event. Have a sample tested and work with your feed or nutrition rep to formulate rations that can be useful for livestock.
The nitrate-nitrogen content in the whole ration is what counts. Nitrate nitrogen is usually less of an issue when the corn has a chance to make an ear, but can still be a problem when very little corn is made.
After a good rain, it can be useful to wait a few days to see whether the crop will respond. Any growth and ear development adds to yield.
For long-term storage:
Whole plant moisture content is the primary factor in chopping for long-term storage. Even when leaves are browning, the whole plant moisture can be greater than what is suitable for storage.
Some common moisture targets are: Upright silos 60 to 65 percent; Oxygen limiting silos 50 to 60 percent; Bunkers and Piles 65 to 70 percent; Bags 60 to 70 percent.
Nitrogen oxides are an important element of silo gas, so there can be additional silo gas risk for drought stressed crops that might have higher levels of unused nitrogen in the plant. We should always follow standard safety precautions related to silo gas hazards.
Dan Undersander (from Wisconsin Extension) offered some useful information recently about pasture management with dry weather. Rotational grazing or using temporary fencing to protect a chunk of the pasture from grazing so it gets a chance to grow can give the pasture a chance to make better use of any rain that does come. It can be helpful to fence off drier parts of a pasture so livestock don’t keep it super short. This allows for root growth as well as top growth.
Applying 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre and five to 10 pounds of sulfur, depending on soil type can provide one-half to a ton or more of feed production from late summer into fall. Consider a soil test for phosphorus and potassium needs that might help restore root systems for next year’s growth.
I see a lot of meadow and lowland hay being put up. Cutting as soon as you can get on this land will provide better quality feed.
There might be enough soil moisture in lowlands or with late summer rains to harvest some better quality grass from some of this land later in the summer and fall.
Some farmers are finding that cattle sort and waste less hay where they use balers that have crop cutters on them. Consider how the crop is handled, stored and fed to minimize waste and quality loss.
With an earlier small grain harvest, oats might be seeded to provide another good quality forage feed crop. Forage type oat varieties will yield better if planting is done by the first week in August. Earlier maturing grain type oats might do better when planting occurs after the first week of August.
Consider feeding strategies for most of the next year as you make day to day decisions with the crop now. Kick ideas around with neighbors and others you work with. Farmers with better crops might be a source of feed for others.
Dan Martens is an Extension educator with the University of Minnesota.