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Forages update webinar paints hopeful picture for Wisconsin crops next year

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Wisconsin produces 11 percent of the corn silage in the nation and more than 670,000 acres of corn are used for corn silage.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of Extension offered an optimistic update on the forages outlook for next year's harvest based on this year's results.

Last year's harvest was difficult and wet, said Kevin Jarek, a crop and soils agent in Calumet County, leading to extensive equipment and field damage as well as delayed and canceled harvests. He said farmers were also left with mold issues because of the high moisture levels.

Despite the hard season, corn has greatly improved since last year, Jarek said. He noted that some of this year's corn grew multiple ears, which is a sign of stress, but overall corn crops have done well with good weather and decent precipitation throughout the season. Jarek said some of the reasons for success are that corn plantings were done earlier than usual, since last year's spring rains led to late plantings, and the lack of rain has led to better moisture control as seen in drydown samples.

"We got the corn planted earlier and this is what that planting day made a difference in," Jarek said.

Kevin Jarek

Jarek said most drydown samples were at 60% moisture, which is ideal, while some were a little wetter at 70% and some drier at 50% in Calumet County. He said short season varieties also dry quicker than long season varieties. He said crude protein content levels also improved from last year, with 2020's average at 9.065% while 2019's was 7.35%.

Wisconsin farmers also attempted to plant late summer alfalfa seedings, but many of them failed and revealed extensive damage, adding that everywhere but Dane County farmers were behind the average harvesting time for hay. Jarek said farmers should look for alternative forage planting opportunities – some farmers are already planting winter rye for spring harvesting because he believes we will be short on winter rye this coming season.

While forage quality was not terrible, Jarek said Wisconsin finished at above the average for milk production per ton. Hay protein levels were also on the low side, but fiber was on the higher side.

"Our fiber digestibility finished above the average for what we would have expected," Jarek said. "Even though 2020 has proved to be a better growing season than 2019 ... The problem with the weather, not just in 2019 but 2020, was that anybody who tried to make dry hay had difficulties."