By Dan Martens
University of Minnesota Extension
Fall?! Good Grief, we’ve barely had summer. It was spring until the middle of July.
I think many people figure fall will be about as mixed up as spring and summer have been. With corn planted from the first week of May through the first week of July, there’s going to be a real mix of crops to deal with.
Corn generally reaches physiological maturity where a black layer forms in the tip of the kernel about 55 to 60 days after pollination. It normally takes about 45 days to go from pollination to half milk line where the whole plant moisture could be around 65% and considered suitable for corn silage.
Temperature and moisture conditions will affect crop development through the rest of the season. Moisture limitations on sandier soils that have not gotten rain are losing yield now. With scattered showers, there will likely be some very good crops and some poor crops this year.
One task now is to anticipate the variety in crops that is likely as harvest unfolds; and to consider options for harvest, storage and feeding. Some of the late planted corn may not be much different than a grass silage crop. On some farms this might mean thinking about what will be put in a silo, or a bunker of silage bags. How will it be fed for heifers, dry cows, milk cows, beef cattle? What other feed materials might be used to balance rations with some of this forage for various livestock types?
Whether before or after frost, the key for chopping silage is to watch for the whole plant corn moisture that is suitable for specific storage methods.
Frost is also an important factor for harvest decisions with sorghum, sorghum Sudan grass crosses, and Sudan grass – depending on whether it is grazed; green chopped, baled as dry hay, or put up as a silage crop. The height of the crop also affects whether prussic acid will be a problem.
Some people have had good results with planting a second small grain crop. A second crop of oats might produce a fall harvest of 3/4 to 1 ton or more of oat haylage.
Planting for Nov. 1 Harvest
Some people are thinking about whether they can plant a “cover” crop where prevented planting crop insurance payments were made and harvest could be allowed after Nov. 1. Before making any decisions about this idea, check with your crop insurance rep, NRCS staff and FSA office staff about any regulations that will affect what you are thinking about. You don’t want problems later.
Doug Holen, regional Extension educator for crop production in the Morris and Fergus Falls area, shared a couple of thoughts, noting his perspective might change weekly as he sees how conditions unfold:
“For someone who needs forage long-term, I liked the option of seeding late summer alfalfa or alfalfa/grass best. … I’m not a fan of harvesting it after Nov. 1.
“Being a small grains guy, I think a mid-August/early September seeding of any small grain will work very well. It should be out of the disease season, provide good fall growth and still have feed value in November.
“If you’re worried about seed production, which seems unlikely, go with winter varieties where a seed head won’t be possible. You have to be ready to chop or make baleage. Straw is the worst case scenario, assuming snow stays away.
“I know some seed is hard to find, but I like the idea of using bin run seed and saving a bunch of money and having access to it. You won’t hear me say this in the spring.
“I say this knowing no seed germinates better than volunteers post-small grain harvest.”
Farmers should work closely with their nutrition reps and agronomy reps in considering whether there are possibilities that might fit their farm well. Past experience and common sense count a lot when dealing with conditions that don’t fit normal parameters very well.