Hay & Forage Grower - April/May 2019

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April/May 2019

Robotic milkers demand focus on forage quality pg 8 Grazing high-nitrate forages pg 18 Pest management focus pgs 20-31

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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He’s got it covered pg 40 4/17/19 9:43 AM

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April/May 2019 · VOL. 34 · No. 4

MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Jan C. Ford jford@hoards.com Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com



Is it time to think about a larger square baler?

A number of factors must be considered when buying a large square baler. If you’re on the fence between a 3x3 or 3x4 baler, then don’t pass up this article.

EDITORIAL OFFICE 28 Milwaukee Ave. West, Fort Atkinson, WI, 53538 WEBSITE www.hayandforage.com EMAIL info@hayandforage.com PHONE (920) 563-5551

DEPARTMENTS 4 First Cut 8 Dairy Feedbunk 14 Alfalfa Checkoff 16 Beef Feedbunk

An enduring relationship fuels success


19 Forage Gearhead

He’s got it covered

Solid business relationships drive success. Few are more solid than at D & G Chopping in Tulare, Calif.

Clear Springs Cattle Company gets the most from every cow and acre. Grazing cover crops are a big part of the equation.

50 Forage IQ


35 Pasture Ponderings 43 Feed Analysis

50 Hay Market Update ON THE COVER


























It’s what every alfalfa grower wants to see each spring — a successful new seeding. USDA expects farms and ranches to harvest 53.1 million acres of hay in 2019, which is a similar amount to 2018. Photo by Mike Rankin

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2019 W. D. Hoard & Sons Company. All rights reserved. Published six times annually in January, February, March, April/May, August/September and November by W. D. Hoard & Sons Co., 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Tel: 920-563-5551. Fax: 920-563-7298. Email: info@hayandforage.com. Website: www.hayandforage. com. Periodicals Postage paid at Fort Atkinson, Wis., and additional mail offices. SUBSCRIPTION RATES: Free and controlled circulation to qualified subscribers. Non-qualified subscribers may subscribe at: USA: 1 year $20 U.S.; Outside USA: Canada & Mexico, 1 year $80 U.S.; All other countries, 1 year $120 U.S. For Subscriber Services contact: Hay & Forage Grower, PO Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 USA; call: 920-563-5551, email: info@hayandforage.com or visit: www.hayandforage.com. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to HAY & FORAGE GROWER, 28 Milwaukee Ave., W., Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 53538 USA. Subscribers who have provided a valid email address may receive the Hay & Forage Grower email newsletter eHay Weekly.

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F YOU’RE in the business of producing forage, there’s a high likelihood that you manage the land that grows your crops. Many of you also manage livestock. Those two entities — crops and livestock — comprise a big part of what agriculture is all about in our pursuit to produce food. There is, however, a third leg to this tripod that often defines success or failure in a countless number of ways and garners our attention on a daily basis. That third leg is water — two little hydrogen atoms covalently bonded to oxygen that often cause extreme emotional highs and lows. As I travel around the country visiting farms and ranches, there are easily noticeable differences in soils and the crops that they grow. What is universal is our dependency on water, but not just to grow crops. We usually think of water in terms sustaining crop growth, which it does either by natural rainfall or irrigation. Both too much water and too little water are detrimental to productivity; however, for forage producers, water takes on a level of importance beyond that just needed for crop growth. Grazing aside, much of what we do in the forage industry and how we do it resides in the concentration of internal plant moisture at harvest. Working to attain an acceptable harvest moisture range is responsible for a lot of farmer angst and out-of-pocket investment. It’s a necessary evil that dictates how and when we harvest. Hitting the optimum moisture harvest range has caused countless farmers and ranchers to miss many Memorial Day and Fourth of July picnics. Here’s the thing about the harvest moisture of forage crops: It is not only paramount to governing the way it will store, but it can also be critical to forage quality. In the arid West, some

Mike Rankin Managing Editor

producers use “steamers,” at great expense, to put moisture back into the wilted forage; it’s not because the bonedry hay won’t store but instead to save leaves and ensure quality. In the more humid East, investments are made in conditioners, tedders, and rakes to help drive moisture out of the crop. Even so, there is still the need to use organic acids to help preserve a wetter than desired crop. For corn silage, whole plant moisture not only singularly drives the harvest-timing decision, but it also dictates final crop quality from both a plant and storage standpoint. If your farm is located in a humid environment or one blessed with frequent rain events, it’s difficult to put up high-quality dry hay. That’s why nearly all Midwest and Northeast dairies have chosen the chopped haylage route for many years now. It’s also responsible for the most significant, recent trend change in forage harvesting — baleage. I see baleage nearly everywhere I travel. It has shortened the necessary wilting time in half (or more) compared to dry hay and has the added benefit of improved forage quality. “Revolutionary for the small producer” is how Ben Bartlett describes baleage in our page 10 story. Finally, for any high-moisture forage that’s harvested, internal plant moisture is the single biggest factor that drives optimum fermentation. Push the limits, either too dry or too wet, and you’ll pay a significant price. The whims of water are an agricultural reality. For forage producers, they’re much, much more. •

Write Managing Editor Mike Rankin, 28 Milwaukee Ave., P.O. Box 801, Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 call: 920-563-5551 or email: mrankin@hayandforage.com

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Is it time to think about a

by Kevin J. Shinners


HE costs associated with feeding or bedding with large square bales will just begin when the bale hits the ground. In fact, the combined downstream costs of gathering, handling, transporting, storing, and feeding those bales can easily exceed baling costs. To reduce total costs for a given annual tonnage, producers must reduce the number of bales handled. The North American equipment industry identifies large square balers by the approximate bale width and height. Common nominal bale sizes (in feet) are 3x3, 3x4, and 4x4. Moving up from the smaller 3x3 to the larger 3x4 bale size can reduce the number of bales needed by a third without requiring extensive changes to the rest of the bale system. To help producers compare costs of these two bale sizes, an extensive economic analysis was conducted to determine if cost reductions from handling, storing, and feeding a third fewer bales could offset the greater baling costs associated with using the larger baler. The 4x4 baler was introduced in the late 1970s and remains a popular bale size in the Western commercial hay

segment. But this bale size was too large to be handled by many livestock producers at that time, so the 3x3 and 3x4 balers were subsequently developed. At first glance, it would appear that the 3x4 bale is 33 percent larger than the 3x3 (12 versus 9 square feet cross-section, respectively), but a closer look at the actual size of the bales shows that is not quite true.

A third fewer bales Manufacturers strategically size the bale dimensions to ensure legal transport height and width requirements can be met. Both bale sizes are usually 34.5 inches high, so the bales can be stacked three high on a trailer that is 5 feet high and not exceed the maximum load height of 13.5 feet. Although legal transport width is 102 inches, bale width is set so three 3x3 or two 3x4 bales sitting across the trailer will occupy about 96 inches, which gives 6 inches of freeboard should the stack lean slightly. To meet this requirement, the 3x3 is 31.5 inches wide while the 3x4 is 47 inches wide, so the 3x4 is actually 50 percent wider and subsequently has 50 percent greater weight per bale. For a given annual tonnage, the number of bales needed is reduced by a third because two 3x4

Mike Rankin

LARGER SQUARE BALER? bales have the same weight as three 3x3 bales. An extensive spreadsheet model was created to estimate the costs of baling, handling, storing, and processing bales of hay and crop residues. The analysis involved dozens of assumptions, and space does not allow inclusion here. But it is important to note that the costs of baling include the fixed costs of depreciation and interest, so the greater cost of the 3x4 balers is already rolled into the costs shown in Figure 1. A producer baling 800 tons per year would produce roughly 1,600 3x3 bales or 1,050 3x4 bales. For this size of producer, the cost of making 3x4 bales was $3 more per ton than with the 3x3 bales. Baling costs were greater because the 3x4 baler was about 20 percent more expensive and requires a larger, more expensive tractor, which consumes more fuel. But the combined KEVIN J. SHINNERS The author is a professor of agricultural engineering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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ing and strapping procedures. The 3x3 large square baler was introduced more than 30 years ago to meet the needs of smaller livestock producers. As operations become larger with more than adequate equipment to handle the bigger 3x4 bale, it may be time to consider the potential economic benefits of the 3x4 bale size. • Figure 1. Baler cost comparison for producing 800 tons of large square bales 80



$16.5 $16.5











Cost ($ per ton)

This analysis shows that the 3x4 bale size becomes more economical than the 3x3 bale size at roughly 800 tons per year — that’s about 1,600 3x3 bales per year. Although the differences in cost per ton are not great as more bales are made each year, Figure 3 shows that the total cost savings grow substantially with the greater annual tonnage. Of course, the crossover point where the 3x4 is more economical than the 3x3 will be different for every operation. But this analysis does show that the move to the 3x4 bale size could be advantageous for many operations. Thus far, costs have been presented in terms of dollars per ton, but producers and custom balers may be more familiar with charges on a dollars per bale basis. A review of the custom rate guides for Wisconsin and Iowa show that custom baling operations charge about $10 per bale to make 3x3 bales. The 3x4 bale is 50 percent larger than the 3x3, so should the charge for making 3x4 bales simply be 1.5 times greater, or $15 per bale? This might not be the best choice because the 3x4 has greater baling costs than the 3x3. Baling costs will differ depending on the annual number of tons produced, but at 800 tons per year, that difference was about 10 percent. To account for the greater baling costs, a baling charge of at least $15.50 per bale would be appropriate. Customers may balk at paying $15.50 rather than $10 per bale, but they will need to be educated that each 3x4 bale weighs 50 percent more than a 3x3 bale, and as a result they will experience the substantial benefit from having to handle a third fewer bales.

The economics of different bale size is important, but other factors should be considered when contemplating a change from the 3x3 to the 3x4 bale size, including: • Field productivity: All other factors being the same (for example, windrow size and moisture), the 3x4 baler can be expected to bale more acres per hour than the 3x3 baler. This should allow fields to be baled more quickly so that gathering and transport can happen sooner. • Baleage: If you wrap square bales, be aware that some bale wrappers are not capable of wrapping the larger 3x4 bale size. However, there are individual and in-line wrappers available that can wrap the larger bale size. • Stability: The 3x4 bales have a wider base, so they tend to be more stable when stacked. There will be fewer 3x4 bales in a given stack volume, which promotes stability. No matter what bale size you use, always follow proper stack-


30 20 0


3x3 Handling

3x4 Storage


Figure 2. Total cost to bale, handle, store, and process 3x3 or 3x4 large square bales

Cost ($ per ton)

A clear cost advantage

More to think about

140 130 120 110 100 90 80 70 60 50







1,000 1,250 1,500 1,750 2,000 2,250 2,500 Annual tonnage

Figure 3. Potential cost savings for a 3x4 baler instead of a 3x3 baler $12,000

Potential annual cost savings

cost savings from having to handle, store, and process 550 fewer bales per year essentially offset the greater cost of baling with the 3x4 baler. When more tons are baled per year, the fixed ownership costs of baling can be diluted across more bales, which rapidly helps drive down the fixed costs associated with baling. Figure 2 shows that the cost of owning and operating a large square baler may be prohibitive when annual tonnage is small. Using a round baler or a custom baling service are likely better options when only a few hundred tons are made annually.

$10,000 $8,000 $6,000 $4,000 $2,000 $0 ($2,000) ($4,000)





1,000 1,250 1,500 1,750 2,000 2,250 2,500 Annual tonnage

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Maggie Seiler

by Mike Brouk

Robotic milking demands focus on forage quality S ROBOTIC milking continues to grow in the U.S., we are gaining knowledge and understanding of the interactions between nutrition, cow comfort, animal behavior, and facility design. Robotic milking systems require a greater per-cow investment in milking equipment as compared to conventional milking systems. This generally results in greater expectations in per-cow milk production to help offset this higher investment. The robotic system is only capable of harvesting the milk produced by the herd. The system does not produce milk. Thus, the focus really needs to be on comfort and nutrition to allow the cattle to express a higher level of milk production associated with the genetic capabilities of the animals.

Monitor moisture Forages will generally comprise 50 to 60 percent of the ration dry matter and represent the greatest amount of variability in the dairy ration. The first critical factor is harvesting at the correct maturity to ensure the forage is of high quality and will allow for adequate

rates of passage. As crops mature, the fiber content rises and the fiber itself becomes more indigestible. This results in longer residence time in the rumen and less digestible fiber. The next effect on the cow is a slower passage rate and lower dry matter intake. In early lactation, dairy cattle intake is limited primarily by the distention of the rumen and how quickly (rate of passage) the feedstuffs move through the rumen, encouraging the animal to return to the feedbunk for an additional meal. In early lactation, dairy cows can convert a pound of dry matter into 2.5 to 3 pounds of milk. A higher rate of passage will generally result in greater amounts of digestible nutrients being available to the cattle. Forages represent the portion of the diet with the longest residence time in the rumen, and as forage digestibility (mature forages) declines, residence time lengthens. Once the goals for plant maturity at harvest are set, the next task is to set the goals and plans for harvesting. Try to ensure that there is always adequate moisture available in the plant mass

for fermentation and that the variability in harvest moisture is limited. This will minimize the number of ration adjustments needed due to changes in silage moisture.

Robotics make a difference Forage quality in robotic milking systems is even more critical than in conventional milking systems. In robotic milking systems, cattle independently present to the milking system. In conventional milking systems, cattle are taken to the milking parlor two or three times per day. This creates movement in the pen and encourages the cattle to consume feed following milking. However, in most robotic milking systems, cattle present to the milking system or MIKE BROUK The author is a professor and extension dairy specialist with Kansas State University.

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feedbunk independently. The main driver to encourage them to move from their stall to the milking system or feedbunk is hunger. Hunger is driven by the level of milk production and the rate of passage of the diet they are consuming. In early lactation, total intake is related to physical capacity and how often the capacity can be refilled. Feeding lower quality forages in a robotic milking system will result in lower milk production per cow, reduced intake, more time spent fetching (humans moving cattle to the milking system), and fewer daily milkings. The general effect is less milk income and higher labor costs associated with fetching. When selecting forages for use in dairies with robotic milking equipment, always consider the amount and rate of fiber digestion in the rumen. Typically, the level of neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and the rate at which NDF ferments in the rumen is utilized to determine the quality of forage. In the laboratory, we routinely measure the

NDF content and usually determine the NDF digestibility (NDFD) at either 30, 120, or 240 hours of exposure. A newer procedure, TTNDFD (total tract NDF digestibility) is superior in determining the value of the forage in the dairy cow. It predicts the rate and extent of forage NDF digestion. This is highly correlated with milk production and is a better predictor of forage value than simply looking at NDF content and a single NDFD time point. In general, TTNDFD results of 50 or greater indicate superior forages and levels of 35 or less generally result in lower milk production and reduced total intake.

Improved cow movement For robotically milked herds, cow flow is very important and forage quality is a key factor when addressing the needs of improving milk production and reducing fetching efforts. In early lactation, the level of milk production drives intake. Cows producing greater quantities of milk have higher intakes and as production climbs, intake does the

same. High-quality forage is necessary for higher levels of milk production in early lactation, which encourages cattle to eat more often and improves animal traffic in the facility. Getting animals to move independently in early lactation is greatly influenced by forage quality. Using poor-quality forages in conventional milking systems will not reduce cow movement as much as in a robotic facility. This is due to the fact that cattle are fetched to the milking parlor two or three times each day, resulting in more activity at the feedbunk following milking. Adoption of robotic milking equipment is occurring at a rapid rate in the U.S., and it will enhance the opportunity to produce and sell greater quantities of high-quality forages. With grasses and legume forages, the focus will be on rate and extent of NDF digestibility. Dairy producers and forage growers need to focus on these key issues when harvesting and selecting forages for robotic milking centers. •

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Ben Bartlett can share a lifetime of grazing experiences from his farm and those of others. “There are no limits on how things can be done,” said the retired extension agent who still farms in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

A lifelong LEARNER and TEACHER of GRAZING by Mike Rankin


E’S A farmer. An educator. A learner. A world traveler. And also a Yooper. That latter résumé-building item puts Ben Bartlett into a hearty and exclusive class of people who call Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or the U.P., home. Bartlett knows this unique geography better than most; he has spent the better part of a lifetime raising sheep and cattle on grass while traveling throughout the U.P. to help others do the same. Bartlett and his wife, Denise, own and

operate Log Cabin Livestock, a 700-acre diversified farm near Chatham, Mich. The region receives about 160 inches of snow per year. The growing seasons are short, and the summer hours of sunlight are long, but Bartlett has perfected a system that helps him harvest as much grass (and sunlight) as possible. He did intensive grazing management before most people could even define the term. “It wasn’t wisdom that got us into it but rather necessity,” Bartlett said.

How it all came down After obtaining a degree in veterinary medicine, Bartlett worked in

Japan and Korea managing cattle shipments and designing facilities. It was there, in 1973, that he worked with colleagues from Australia who described new fencing technologies that were being used in their home country. Returning to Michigan after three years overseas, Bartlett said he and his wife set up a “house of cards” cattle operation in Lower Michigan, leasing land and grazing contracted cattle owned by another individual. “It was doomed for failure, and it did when promises got broken,” he said. “We had no money, three young children, and 10 beef cows of our own,”

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All photos Mike Rankin

Bartlett noted of the tough predicament. “About that time (1977), the managerial position at the experiment station in the U.P. became available. I got the job and moved the family up here. With 10 beef cows, we rented a farm that was owned by a dentist who also had 20 sheep on the place. We made a deal that we could bring our cows, and in return, we would care for his sheep,” he said. Three years later, Bartlett and his wife bought the farm from the dentist. It’s part of the same farm that he currently operates.

“Those first few years we were lost souls, trying to figure out when was the best time to lamb. We didn’t have enough pasture for the sheep so we rented the neighbor’s field. That turned out to be our intensive grazing management epiphany,” he recalled. Bartlett explained that the rented farm wasn’t fenced. He only had enough plastic netting to put up and contain his sheep for one day, mandating that he move the animals (and his netting) every 24 hours. It was a chore of necessity, not design. However, in doing this he noticed how uniform the pastures were eaten and how fast the regrowth came back. He then recalled his earlier discussions with the Australians while in Korea who described a similar system that they were using. One Sunday, Bartlett decided to move the netting after attending church, at 11 a.m. rather than the usual 8 a.m. When he did this, the grass in the paddock from which they were moved turned brown and remained that way for a period of time. “Even though there was just a 3-hour difference, it was my first lesson in overgrazing,” Bartlett said. In 1983, a year of tough economic times, a university reorganization effort occurred and Bartlett became Michigan State University’s dairy and livestock agent for the entire Upper Peninsula. He held that position until he retired in 2011.

Work-farm balance Since those early years, Bartlett never stopped building and improving his own operation. During the growing season, he currently grazes 400 ewes,

650 lambs, and 100 Holstein steers. “I would run camels if I could get them merchandised right,” Bartlett chuckled. The home farm consists of about 300 acres of permanent pasture. “This is great forage-growing country,” Bartlett said. “But farming had to fit our job schedules, and we had to pay the bills. We tried to minimize our winter work and accentuate summer. Essentially, we had to merchandise our grass.” Bartletts raise Polypay-cross lambs and try to keep their flock’s lambing rate high, around 1.8 lambs per ewe. In mid-November, he puts together a semi-load of feeder lambs and auctions them off. “We have no local markets for lambs up here and not quite enough growing season to finish them out on grass,” explained Bartlett. The Holstein stocker steers are purchased in the spring and sold in the fall as feeders. The U.P. is both blessed and cursed from a forage production standpoint. Though the growing season is short, growing conditions are ideal for high-quality forage with long days and moderate summer temperatures. “Orchardgrass loves this country,” Bartlett said of his primary pasture grass. Kentucky bluegrass also performs well. Each year in the spring, the longtime shepherd no-tills red clover into about 50 acres of pasture on a rotating basis. He also establishes turnips for high-quality fall forage to put some additional gain on the lambs. Depending on the year, Bartlett can graze until mid-November or early December. Through the winter, the only livestock to care for are ewes. continued on following page >>>

A grazing epiphany Speaking about those early days, Bartlett said, “We knew my job wasn’t going to pay for the farm, so we started raising sheep. Also, Denise went back to school and got a master’s degree in library science, and then she started working at the local school.” These days, Denise still takes an active roll in caring for lambs and helping to make hay.

Bartletts’ flock of Polypay-cross lambs and ewes are intensively grazed on mixed grass-legume pastures.

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having a plan or goal often “Not leads to failures . . . know what you’re trying to accomplish.” The recent industry interest to help better understand and improve soil health hasn’t escaped Bartlett. He doesn’t use any commercial fertilizer on his home pastures. Rather, he relies on compost and manure deposition. Bartlett shared his experience with a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) research project he undertook recently comparing soils from an exclusion area in selected paddocks to areas where grazing was allowed. Two to three days after the animals were removed, he was able to document higher carbon dioxide production on the grazed area compared to the ungrazed control. “Grazing was actually stimulating soil life, and it was an immediate response,” Bartlett noted. “We need to both move water into the soil but also hold it there with good organic matter and aggregation,” Bartlett said. “Nothing does that like forage crops, which are capturing sunlight throughout the growing season.”

prised of rented fields away from the home farm. “We just found that our most economical way to do this is to rent a grass field, which we can do for less than $20 per acre, put some urea on early in the spring, then get our one cutting. We don’t break any yield records, but we try to cut early to get high quality,” he explained.

Distinguished extension career During his long extension career, Bartlett was tasked to provide information and guidance to all types of livestock producers. He knew that he couldn’t be an expert in everything, so he really decided to focus on improving grazing systems. “In this way, I could help all types of operations,” Bartlett said.

High-quality hay needed With an average total snow accumulation of nearly 14 feet per winter, Bartlett needs a reliable hay source. “Sheep require a higher quality hay supply than cattle,” Bartlett said. “I just can’t afford to have bad hay, so I make it myself.” Like many humid-region operators these days, Bartlett makes both dry hay and baleage. “The introduction of the round baler was a turning point in the forage industry, but so was the ability to put up round bale silage,” he said. “It gives the small farmer an opportunity to put up higher quality feed.” He owns both a baler and wrapper. Bartlett cuts and bales about 300 acres of grass per year with most of that being rented land that is too far away to graze. The hayfields are usually cut once per season. The dedicated hay acreage is com-

Bartlett and his wife, Denise, work to put up high-quality hay for their sheep flock.

“My extension career was rewarding and being able to run my farm at the same time was a benefit,” he explained. “Often, I would test practices and theories on my farm before discussing them at extension meetings. In those early years, when intensive rotational grazing was first taking hold, a lot of learning was done farmer to farmer,” he added. Bartlett’s knowledge of grazing systems and components didn’t stay hidden in Michigan’s U.P. Over time, he became a highly sought after

Bartlett grazes Holstein stockers during the summer as a means of diversification.

speaker for meetings and conferences throughout the United States. He has also authored a number of extension bulletins and publications. International travel to further his own knowledge and that of others also was a unique component of Bartlett’s extension career. At one point, he spent a month in Argentina on an Eisenhower Fellowship. He’s also traveled or made presentations in several European countries, Australia, New Zealand, Tanzania, South Africa, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and most Canadian provinces.

More than one way When asked what he thought was most lacking in current grazing systems, Bartlett silently ref lected for a moment and then said that he thought not enough graziers were outcome focused. “Not having a goal or plan often leads to failures,” Bartlett explained. “You have to know what you’re trying to accomplish. For instance, is animal performance the primary goal or is it your own quality of life? Maybe it’s to maximize plant and soil health. You can’t necessarily do all of those things at the same time. The right way to graze is going to depend on what you’re trying to achieve. In fact, goals can be different from paddock to paddock.” Bartlett continued, “There are three things involved with grazing . . . the plant, the animal, and yourself. There’s not a right or wrong way and we certainly have to make trade-offs between these three components. I’m not sure many people look at it that way,” he added. The straight-to-the-point, retired extension agent concluded, “There are no limits on how things can be done. We need to follow some biological rules, but otherwise it’s whatever it takes to pay the bills.” •

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Your Checkoff Dollars At Work

Maximizing alfalfa’s yield potential Hay & Forage Grower is featuring results of research projects funded through the Alfalfa Checkoff, officially named the U.S. Alfalfa Farmer Research Initiative, administered by National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance (NAFA). The checkoff program facilitates farmer-funded research. Implemented voluntarily by seed brands, the Checkoff is assessed at $1 per bag of alfalfa seed sold with 100 percent of funds supporting public alfalfa research. The first project results are just being completed; detailed reports can be viewed on NAFA’s searchable research database at alfalfa.org.

LFALFA yields can be improved through breeding, believes Charlie Brummer. It’s just going to take longer than he’d hoped, said the Center for Plant Breeding Director at the University of California-Davis. Brummer is using NAFA Alfalfa Checkoff funds to test whether new technologies — genomic selection, frequency-based molecular markers, and sensing equipment — can help identify high-yielding alfalfa populations. Building on previous genomic selection research, Brummer and his colleagues used a computer model to see if they could predict yield based on genetic markers. “Then we selected plants for higher yield and for lower yield from within a breeding population, using only genetic markers. CHARLIE BRUMMER We were very sucUC-Davis $49,988 cessful at selecting for lower yield and less successful at increasing yield,” he said. “But we see there is a signal for yield in these predictive models, and I think the opportunity is there to boost yields.” Using the previous research helped confirm that genetic markers could work, but a “more methodical approach to generating data and building and applying models is needed,” he added. “In our second objective, we were going to look at some relationships of different germplasms,” Brummer said. “But we had some methodological problems; we aren’t sure what happened. We generated data that just didn’t make sense.” With some adjustments, the experiment is being repeated. The third part of the research investigated whether drone-based sensing could be used to measure plant height

and biomass yield as a faster option than actually harvesting and weighing alfalfa plots. “This would be potentially very important in terms of improving yield,” Brummer said. “The hope is that we could use these sensors to help us predict what the yield is so we don’t have to measure every harvest by hand or with machines.” He continued, “The idea is to make the whole selection process more datadriven, more accurate, more effective, and faster. Preliminary results look promising; we could predict yield pretty well with the drone-based sensor data. I don’t want to get too excited about it because these are preliminary. But so far it looks really positive,” said the

long-time plant breeder. Sensing technology may allow researchers to gather more yield data from more test plots and possibly lead them to gather alfalfa regrowth information, which would help in the selection process.

A bright future “We do know we haven’t made a lot of yield progress in the past doing what we have been doing in alfalfa breeding — outside of better yield by virtue of improved disease or insect resistance,” Brummer noted. “So looking at alternatives is useful. Genomic marker-based selection for yield might work, especially if we tweak some things. The

Project objectives:

Project results:

•E valuate the yield gain possible from genomic selection.

•U sing genetic markers to identify highyielding populations looks promising; a more methodical approach to gathering data and developing predictive models is needed.

•C lassify germplasm by genotyping populations and forming heterotic pools. •C haracterize alfalfa growth using proximal and/or remote sensing.

•D ata were faulty; the research is being repeated. • Drone-based sensing to estimate yield appears to work on a small scale; more study is needed.

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sensors to predict yield based on flying a drone to obtain sensor readings might work to estimate yield, but more work is needed. That work will go on, using additional Checkoff funding,” he added. “This is the first time since I have been working in forages for the last 30 years that we have had commodity funding for research. It’s really great

that we have this opportunity in alfalfa to have producer-driven research, and anything we can do as researchers to make the crop better for farmers is fantastic,” Brummer said. The optimistic researcher continued, “The Alfalfa Checkoff is a great program, and it has the potential to do great things for alfalfa that we haven’t

had the money to do.” Being able to tap into Checkoff funds as well as the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Alfalfa Seed and Alfalfa Forage System Program is allowing Brummer the money for a “critical mass” of alfalfa research. “It allows us to do things we couldn’t do with either program independently,” he said. •



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by Taylor Grussing

Finding the right binding


LANNING for next winter’s hay needs is a process that should begin now, before the hustle and bustle of summer arrives. Have you considered the type of hay-binding material you will use? Usually binding is dictated by the type and kind of baler that you own or use. However, many balers have capabilities for both twine and net wrap, and the decision of which one to use or switch between either can be based on forage type, location, time, or even storage plans (indoors or outdoors).

Many new choices

With advancements in technology, forage binding methods have grown to include a variety of options, including twine, net wrap, and plastic wrapping. Twine has traditionally been the type of binding most commonly used and can be made from plastic, sisal, and polypropylene. If you have been using plastic twine, it’s likely that you’re still finding it in cattle lots — stuck in the dirt — where round bales have been fed for years. Sisal twine became popular due to the degradability of its fiber. Yet, depending on the year, sisal twine could begin degrading before bales are moved from the field, leaving behind a trail of wasted hay as they are transported. Newer twine products such as solar-degradable twine combine the advantages of both sisal and synthetics with a longer storage life before decomposition occurs. Regardless of the type of twine selected, it takes 20 to 30 turns to wrap a bale at a cost of about 50 cents per bale. While the price of twine is cost effective, is the time spent wrapping bales with twine enough to offset a more expensive product?

With the introduction of net wrap in the late 1990s, many operators made the switch by upgrading to a new baler or equipping their twine balers with net wrap capabilities. Net wrap has many advantages over twine binding, such as improved baling efficiency, water shedding ability, and forage and transportation integrity. With only two to three turns required to wrap a bale, University of Wisconsin researchers found that producers can harvest 32 percent more bales per hour with net wrap versus twine. One disadvantage of net wrap is the cost (about $1 to $1.50 per bale). In the Upper Midwest, where snow and frigid temperatures are common, net wrap can be very difficult to remove prior to feeding. In some cases, the time saved at harvest may be negated by the time spent removing net wrap during winter feeding.

Cut your losses

The type of storage available may play a role in the type of binding to be used. Indoor storage is ideal for hay in order to maintain feed value and quality. Yet, this is not realistic in many situations, so outside storage methods need to aim at minimizing spoilage. As mentioned earlier, net wrap enhances water-shedding ability by covering a larger surface area of forage, resulting in less spoilage. In University of Wisconsin research, outdoor storage dry matter losses were 7.3 and 11.3 percent for net wrap and twine, respectively. More important than binding type is placing bales north to south on well-drained areas with 3 feet between rows to promote airflow and reduce moisture accumulation. Poor storage can lead to excessive spoilage and the potential for 30 percent dry matter loss or more if not used for a year.

Some operations are considering the cost effectiveness of an enhanced watertight forage covering such as plastic instead of building a hay storage building. Not only does plastic remove many of the same environmental elements as indoor storage, but it also reduces rodent exposure. At three times the cost per bale, plastic can improve forage longevity but makes moving hay more challenging.

Remove the binding

It is never advisable to feed binding material to livestock; however, to save time, this advice often goes unheeded and the binding is left on prior to grinding forages. While there is not a large number of livestock fatalities reported due to ingestion of binding, most is undigestible. North Dakota State University conducted a study to determine the digestibility of binding materials. They utilized five types of baling material (sisal, biodegradable plastic twine, and three types of net wrap) and found that after a 14-day rumen incubation period all net wrap and biodegradable plastic twine remained intact and were not degraded in the rumen. In addition, Montana State University conducted a seven-month, cow-feeding trial using ground forage with the binding left on. They found that a large portion of binding was retained within the digestive tract and could potentially cause problems over time. Removing the binding reduces negative impacts on animal health and disposing of it correctly eliminates waste build up in the environment. Producer preferences and equipment usually determine which type of forage binding is used. Cost is often another major decision-driver as well. Keeping track of time, labor, equipment, and storage losses is needed to determine which binding method is most cost effective. Although 1 to 5 percent more hay saved might seem small, it’s often these small savings that can add up to big ones in the long run. • TAYLOR GRUSSING The author is an extension cow/calf field specialist with South Dakota State University. She is based in Mitchell.

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The selling price of corn stover in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has been as high as good alfalfa hay.

Mike Rankin

Quality corn stover in high demand by Melissa Bravo


RECENTLY rode with a hay seller to a Lancaster, Pa., hay auction and this article came to mind as I graded the quality of the hay, straw, and corn stover loads while buyers were bidding. I’ve been a certified crop adviser for 20 years and since receiving my master’s degree, forage quality and forage value has become my focus area. So, when the first load of corn stover out-sold three loads of alfalfa at the Wolgemuth Hay Auction in Leola on the morning of March 13, it caught my attention. In our area, corn stover bales are mostly being used for dairy and horse bedding. On that day, of the 90 loads at the auction, the three lots of alfalfa sold for $190 to $240 per ton. However, eight mixed grass loads sold for $245 to $305 per ton, one timothy load sold for $295 per ton, five grass loads sold for $250 to $285 per ton, and 11 straw loads brought $245 to $320 per ton. There were seven loads of corn stover bales consisting of both 3x3 and 3x4 square bales of husks, leaves, and stalks. Only two sold for less than the lowest priced alfalfa at $140 and $150 per ton. The other bids ranged from $220 to $250 per ton. I went back down through the line and took a closer look at the corn stover quality in the back row that had not sold yet. One load in particular caught

my eye. After confirming there was no mustiness, mold, or mildew on the crinkled corn husks, I asked Eric Motter of Myerstown to share how he produced his 7,500-pound load of 3x3 bales weighing a little over 500 pounds each. He planted the third week of May and the Roundup Ready hybrid only received manure. I could clearly see the corn held its color until harvest and it yielded well. No foliar fungicide was applied. “The day the baler came, I went out six hours before and lifted it; then I tedded it,” Motter said. “I waited two hours; then I raked it, and two hours later it was baled.” Motter’s load sold for $245 per ton. For the previous seven auctions, loads sold for as much as $290, $285, $265, $260, and $250 per ton, and the lowest selling was for $135 per ton.

All about quality So, was it worth it this year to bale the corn stover residues? It certainly was in Pennsylvania. If we assume a yield of 3 tons per acre for baled corn stover, then anything over $215 per ton paid for the entire cost of producing corn for grain. At $245 per ton, the additional cost of raking, tedding, baling, handling, and hauling the stover should all be covered. What’s driving the corn stover price

when, on average, the value would normally be closer to mulch hay prices and not worth the cost to have it baled? It’s all about quality and quantity this year. I’ve seen a lot of droughts affecting hay and straw availability over the last twenty years, but nothing came close to the shortages caused by the constant rain and cloud cover of 2018. Last year’s weather produced a bumper crop of mycotoxin-producing molds as well as mildew. Here’s what Ohio State University’s ruminant extension veterinarian, Michelle Arnold, recently wrote in one of her blog entries: “While mycotoxins (mold poisons) are the main concern, molds themselves can adversely affect health and productivity of cattle. Ingestion of moldy feed or hay can potentially cause mycotic (fungal) abortion, respiratory effects, decreased feed consumption and rate of gain, and digestive problems. Additionally, molds can have effects on humans that handle the moldy feed. A wide variety of mycotoxins, not all of which can be tested for, can be produced in moldy feeds and hay under the right conditions, and ingestion of sufficient amounts of various mycotoxins can result in a large array of clinical effects.” How many early term abortions have you had this year? Do you recall seeing some pink and green mold in your silage bags when you first opened them but fed it anyway because a little can’t hurt? How many young calves that were seemingly in good health have come down with an upper respiratory ailment? And don’t forget to take stock of the health of those working on your farm and their families. Though it may change next year, clean, mold-free corn stover was worth its weight in gold this past fall and winter, generally covering or coming close to covering all associated production costs. • MELISSA BRAVO The author is an agronomic and livestock management consultant based in Wellsboro, Pa.

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animal consumes the stem and lower portions of the plant.

Exercise caution

Mike Rankin

To graze or not to graze high-nitrate forages? by Mary Drewnoski and Beth Reynolds


VER the past few years, we have seen many instances where cattle grazed annual forages that, when tested for nitrates, were considered toxic, and yet the cattle had no adverse health effects. Digging into past research on nitrate toxicity resulted in some very enlightening findings. Grazing fresh forages may be lower risk than current recommendations for several reasons.

Fresh is different Fresh forages release nitrates into the rumen at a slower rate than dry forages. In 20 minutes, 80 percent of the nitrates in hay were released into water, but only 30 percent of the nitrates in fresh forage were released. The slower release rate allows rumen microbes that convert toxic nitrite to ammonia to better keep up with nitrate inflow. In fact, current recommendations are mostly based on drenching animals with a known amount of nitrate salts, essentially making the nitrate immediately available.

Grazing cattle often have a slower rate of dry matter intake when eating fresh, pasture forages; again, this means that the microbes can better keep pace with the nitrate inflow. Higher dietary energy enhances the rate of detoxification. Cattle grazing immature forages can have lower risk than mature forages with the same amount of nitrate. Previous research found that feeding a couple pounds of corn to cattle when using mature, high-nitrate forages can lower the risk of poisoning. The capacity of the microbial population in the rumen to detoxify nitrite is greater as they are exposed to more nitrate. Nitrate concentrations tend to be highest in the bottom of the stem and lowest in the leaf. If given the opportunity, cattle will generally select leaf material first and work their way down the plant, slowly increasing their nitrate exposure over the grazing period. Therefore, the microbial population in the rumen of grazing cattle may have time to “adapt” to higher nitrate concentrations by the time the

Even when the potential for nitrate toxicity exists, a planned grazing strategy can be used to lower the risks and reduce cattle losses. We recommend the following approaches: Know the nitrate content: Test annual forages for nitrates prior to grazing to know how much risk is involved when grazing those forages. Sampling at ground level tells you the worst-case scenario. Slow them down: Don’t put hungry cattle onto high-nitrate forage. Be sure to fill them up before turn out; then keep them full. If intake becomes restricted at any point (forage runs out or weather impedes grazing), fill them up on lower nitrate hay before they go back to grazing the high-nitrate forage. Consider grain supplementation: This will supply energy for rumen microbes to convert nitrate into bacterial protein and help minimize the accumulation of the intermediate nitrite form. Grain feeding may be of limited benefit for high-quality cover crops but is a good idea when grazing more mature forages. Gradual adaptation: Do not strip graze high-nitrate forages; allow cattle to be selective. Losses from nitrate toxicity are more likely in cattle not adapted to nitrate. The bacteria in the rumen capable of converting the toxic nitrite to ammonia will increase in numbers when nitrate is available to them. Adapted animals can be safely fed higher levels of nitrate than unadapted animals. To adapt the cattle, start by grazing the lowest nitrate fields and then work up to the highest. Be sure to graze higher nitrate fields lightly to allow animals to selectively graze the plant parts that are lower in nitrate concentration. Ultimately, the decision to graze high-nitrate fields is a judgment call and a question of how much risk one is willing to take. • MARY DREWNOSKI Drewnoski (pictured) is an extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reynolds is an extension beef program specialist with Iowa State University.

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by Adam Verner linkage always seem to fail one of our customers every year. Check the cutting drum bearings, locks, and the drum itself for wear. While inspecting the drum, a thorough cleaning is probably in order for the grinding stone carrier. Closely inspect the threads, stops, rubbers, and the stone. Finally, check the main drive pulley and belt for worn spots or buildup in the pulley grooves.

Mike Rankin

Check the spout

A quick forage harvester preseason checklist


ARMER days have arrived, and the beasts that have been hibernating in our equipment sheds are ready to be awakened. If you have yet to prepare your chopper for the 2019 season, here’s a quick checklist for “do-it-yourselfers.” An easy place to start is the spot where you spend most of your time . . . the cab. Check the console for any noticeable wire damage or loose connections. Also be sure to inspect the wire harnesses; rodent damage is a common occurrence that most often takes place during winter storage. While at your console, also inspect all of the switches and knobs. You would be amazed how many times you can catch one of these before it fails, usually in the middle of a large job. While in the cab, clear out all of last year’s field and customer information from the monitor. This is not something you’re going to want to fool with on the first day of chopping. Also, if you are familiar enough with your monitor to run a sensor test, this is an easy way to diagnosis a problem before it starts. Most newer machines have a place where you can look at the sensors on your cutter and see if they have electrical current and if they are reading properly. If one looks out of line, you can see which sensor it is and inspect it yourself. It could be as simple as a corroded plug. Don’t forget to check all of your lights and recharge your fire

extinguisher. Be sure to check the cab’s air filters, and if you can take off a roof door, inspect the evaporator and make sure it’s not clogged.

Move to the front Once the cab is clean and in order, dismount and find your way to where the business takes place on the chopper — at the front. The feed rolls can cause you as much headache as any unit on the harvester. Starting with the rolls and bearings, look for play and if any oil is leaking from gearboxes. Inspect the metal and rock-detect wires to make sure everything is intact. Sometimes checking the oil in all the gearboxes can be a headache. In some machines, you need to move the feed-roll cabinet up and down to achieve the proper level to check the oil. Don’t skip this step, as it will save time once in the field. Inspect all of your central lube blocks and lines. If you can manually grease them, do so. Once you remove the cabinet, inspect the driveline for any wear in the crosses and take a good look at the smooth roll scraper. A worn-out smooth roll scraper can make for an unhappy operator when the crop won’t feed. Ensure that you don’t need to replace any knives or the shearbar. New or used, the knives need to be properly adjusted up to the shearbar for a proper cutting length. Grease and inspect all shearbar adjustment linkages. The motors and

If installing a grass chute, make sure the wear liner is in good shape. Next, move on to the blower and check the gap to the backing plate, making sure it is set to manufacturer recommendations. Look over the blower paddles and bearing to ensure they all spin freely and do not seem fatigued. On the spout, be sure to check the sensors and stop limiters. Check the ring and central lube points on the spout hinge. If you have a moisture sensor for corn silage, most manufacturers recommend that you remove it for grass, as dirt and rocks can damage the lens. Finish your spout inspection by checking the functionality of the flipper. It’s always best to start off the year with new fluids. Take a close look at your radiator and inspect for cleanliness and fluid level. Check the main drive gearbox and main belt tension pulley. Don’t forget the drive motors as well. The off-season is the best time to change wheel motor and gearbox oil. The steering system and suspension often get over looked, but rolling around the shop floor on your creeper sure beats crawling around in the field — this is especially true if you coexist with fire ants. If the tires, central lube system, parking brakes, and lights all look in order, you are close to “go time.” The only thing left that I encourage is to stock up on high-use parts before the season starts. The time spent inspecting your chopper at your shop and ordering high-use parts will most certainly lead to more up time in the field and make it easier to diagnosis future problems with your machine. • ADAM VERNER The author is a managing partner in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. He also is active in the family farm in Rutledge.

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Jack Kelly Clark, courtesy University of California Statewide IPM

Blue alfalfa aphid poses problems and questions by Michael Rethwisch


HE blue alfalfa aphid is again present in many southwestern U.S. alfalfa fields. Growers and pest control advisers were hoping that 2019 would be a break from the annual battles they have been fighting with this pest since 2013, but populations high enough to necessitate some initial treatments have already been observed this year. The blue alfalfa aphid (Acyrthosipon kondoi) is a native of Southeast Asia, and wasn’t noted in the United States until 1974 when it was identified in samples from Kern County, California. It gets its name from its blue-green color, and is called the bluegreen aphid in other countries such as Australia. Damage to California alfalfa by the blue alfalfa aphid was reported in 1975. It has been present in southwestern U.S. alfalfa fields each subsequent year. This aphid species is more damaging to alfalfa than the larger and closely related pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum) due to a toxin associated with blue alfalfa aphid feeding. The toxin

results in stunted plants and reductions in plant growth and yields. In 1977, the alfalfa variety CUF-101 was released. This was a collaborative work between commercial alfalfa breeders, university personnel, and individual farmers. This variety was considered to have high resistance to blue alfalfa aphid, as approximately 60 percent of plants survived infestations in greenhouse studies. Resistance is expressed better and more effectively with higher temperatures. The variety became the standard for blue alfalfa aphid resistance and was widely planted in the desert southwest for many years. Aphids were controlled through the use of highly resistant varieties and the naturally occurring predaceous insects such as parasitic wasps and lady beetles. Insecticide treatments were highly effective when outbreaks did occur.

A new challenge Blue alfalfa aphid dynamics changed in 2013 as large outbreaks of aphids were present and damaged area alfalfa

Blue alfalfa aphids completely colonized stems of some fields in 2018.

Suzanne Tippet

Blue alfalfa aphid is becoming more difficult to control. New biotypes may be to blame.

fields. Control by insecticides was not considered effective as in previous years, with many fields being treated multiple times in the same cutting. This has occurred in subsequent years as well, including 2018. The change in treatment effectiveness has not only been true in the low desert but also is occurring in other U.S. areas. Extension colleagues in Utah have noted severe damage to alfalfa coming out of dormancy in late spring, with calculated losses of $6 million per year in some counties. Pest control advisers, growers, and others have questioned why these outbreaks occurred and continue to be experienced. The blue alfalfa aphid migrates into low-desert alfalfa each year. It is not found in low-desert alfalfa fields during the summer and fall, as the high temperatures in these locations are lethal to the aphid, and it doesn’t survive freezing conditions either. Aphids must reinfest area fields each winter by flying into the area on southerly winds. MICHAEL RETHWISCH The author is an extension farm advisor with the University of California based in Blythe.

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PM Upon landing, the aphids give daily birth to more aphids. Weather patterns may be one factor in the outbreaks. While rainfall can definitely reduce aphid numbers, it was not experienced during 2017 to 2018. Temperatures during that winter were above average, with many growers cutting fields in both January and February. Lady beetles, primarily the convergent lady beetle and to a lesser extent the seven-spotted lady beetle and a few other species, were locally very abundant. Finding blue alfalfa aphids in local alfalfa fields during late January 2018 was difficult due to ladybird beetles feeding on the aphids. In mid-February, the high temperatures were near or reached 90°F for several consecutive days. This resulted in the vast majority of convergent lady beetles leaving the area and few beetles remaining in fields.

Ineffective biocontrol In late February and early March, blue alfalfa aphid populations exploded in University of California Cooperative Extension insecticide trial plots, with the majority being winged aphids. This indicated that the aphids were migrating into local fields on winds from other areas. Alfalfa plots that were light green to yellowish in coloration were most attractive to the migrating aphids. The landing aphids began giving birth, and as populations were unchecked by lady beetle predation, aphid populations rose quickly resulting in damaging populations, requiring insecticide applications and additional economic inputs to avoid yield loss. Aphids almost completely colonized alfalfa stems. Alfalfa nearing harvest was sticky with aphid-produced honeydew. In these situations, yield losses were about 0.25 tons per acre where aphids were not controlled. Parasitic wasps were not active against blue alfalfa aphid in 2018. The most effective wasp for biocontrol of blue alfalfa aphid is Aphidius ervi, which also attacks the pea aphid. This wasp species does not attack other aphids in the area and needs to be re-established on an annual basis. The process relies entirely upon the migration of recently parasitized blue alfalfa aphids or pea aphids. These would be aphids that are still able

identical in appearance to the blue alfalfa aphid. The green trefoil aphid is known to occur in Argentina alfalfa but hasn’t been found in the U.S. Little is known about the damage this species does to alfalfa in comparison with the blue alfalfa aphid, or its control.

to fly and migrate prior to their death due to wasp feeding.

Multiple biotypes While weather patterns can contribute to outbreaks of blue alfalfa aphid, there are other factors that are of greater concern. Differing biotypes of the blue alfalfa aphid have been documented over the years. In 1990, the first new blue alfalfa aphid biotype was found in Oklahoma and was designated as BAOK90. This aphid was noted to have overcome some host plant resistance conferred by CUF-101. In 1998, a number of differing blue alfalfa aphid populations were documented. They differed in their life history traits such as survival, reproduction, growth rates, and percentage of winged aphids. Subsequent Australian research found variation in growth rates. In 2009, blue alfalfa aphids in Australia were collected that had much greater virulence on all previously resistant varieties and produced high rates of plant mortality. Confirmation of a new, highly virulent blue alfalfa aphid biotype was later confirmed, along with an expansion of its range. As aphids can spread worldwide via wind currents, it is not unreasonable to suspect that U.S. alfalfa producers are now encountering the blue alfalfa aphid noted in Australia in light of the higher populations and damage being found in alfalfa fields. Testing to confirm that this blue alfalfa aphid biotype is present in the U.S. is necessary, with the results being of high interest. The green trefoil aphid (Acyrthosiphon loti) is an aphid species that is almost

Waning pesticide effectiveness Insecticide data from local 2018 trials has shown that the blue alfalfa aphids encountered locally are much more difficult to control than a decade ago, when many insecticide treatments resulted in 95 percent or greater control. Insecticides continue to provide acceptable control of pea aphids; however, the best blue alfalfa aphid control at seven days post treatment was usually only about 75 percent (see graph). This was noted from existing as well as potential new alfalfa insecticides for the alfalfa market. Temperature did affect the efficacy of pyrethroid-based insecticides, which provided good control (73 to 82 percent) when high temperatures of 62°F to 76°F were noted; however, the same insecticides only provided 41 to 53 percent control when high temperatures were in the low 90s. Pyrethroid efficacy is known to be affected by temperature, with better control at lower temperatures. Insecticide resistance is also of concern for this species. As blue alfalfa aphids give birth to live aphids (typically five to seven per day starting at about 6 days old), each aphid is a clone of its mother. All offspring of an aphid that is resistant to insecticides are expected to also have resistance. Insecticide resistance in blue alfalfa aphid has not been well researched. •

Percent control of blue alfalfa aphid* 100 90




70 60


50 40 30






77 76


53 41


20 10 0

Beleaf 2.1 oz.

Beleaf 2.8 oz.

HM 1508-A 2.8 oz. Sivanto Prime 7 oz. Transform WG 1 oz. 3 DAT

Transform 2 oz.

Warrior II 1.92 oz.


* DAT = days after insecticide treatment. Application made March 26, 2018, in Blythe, Calif.

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by Lisa Baxter


HE bermudagrass stem maggot (BSM; Atherigona reversura Villenueve) has severely damaged bermudagrass pastures and hayfields throughout the southeast U.S. since it was first discovered in southern Georgia. Since the 2010 discovery, the BSM has spread throughout the Southeast, damaging bermudagrass hayfields and pastures as far north as North Carolina and Kentucky and as far west as Texas.

Current control protocol Although pyrethroid insecticides are the most effective way to control the adult BSM, they are not effective on the larva or pupae. It is the larval feeding at the uppermost node of the plant that will kill the top two to three leaves on the stem, giving the forage canopy the characteristic “frosted” appearance. If the BSM damage occurs near the end of a regrowth cycle (within a week of harvest), the yield loss is estimated to be less than 10 percent, so harvest can proceed as normal. However, if the hay crop is damaged at an early stage of regrowth (for example, 6 to 8 inches tall), it will not grow out of the damage. When this occurs, it is crucial to remove (mow and harvest, if possible) the damaged grass before making an insecticide application.

The adult BSM can be controlled with two applications of pyrethroid insecticides, one sprayed seven to 10 days after harvest and one sprayed seven to 10 days after the first application. Each chemical is different, so be sure to read and follow the labeled rate and instructions. Two applications are necessary to effectively suppress the BSM population and protect the bermudagrass during the most sensitive phases of regrowth. While this recommendation is certainly effective, recent research has discovered simple ways to improve the effectiveness of the insecticide applications and fine-tune the recommendation for your own farm.

Scout early and often You can easily use sticky traps or sweep nets to collect and identify the adult BSM fly in the field. To date, sticky traps have only been useful for alerting the producer to the presence of the BSM. Fly counts on sticky trap cards have not been observed to correlate with fly populations. If sticky traps are used, secure the traps to stakes at 8 inches above the soil surface. Sweep net estimates have been found to be relatively accurate predictors of actual fly populations in the field. It is not uncommon to find 50 to 80 flies in a sample of 10 sweeps during July to

Andrew Sawyer, UGA

DECLARING WAR on bermudagrass stem maggot

Lisa Baxter, UGA


Use a sweep net to assess BSM fly populations. Make sure to sample deep into the canopy.

September (peak BSM damage season). This translates to about 300,000 to 500,000 flies per acre. When using a sweep net, sweep deep into the canopy, as the adult BSM does not fly very high. While the flies are more active in the morning hours, it is difficult to sweep if dew is present. Scout your fields just after the morning dew dries off the grass, or around noon. Transfer your sample (about 10 to 15 sweeps) to an “insect cube” or a plastic bag and place it in a freezer for five to 10 minutes. Remove the cube/bag from the freezer and count the number of flies. If you have observed a significant (30 percent) level of damage in your field and find at least 40 to 50 flies in your sample, then it’s time to employ the appropriate control strategy.

Don’t spray until necessary Research has shown that the BSM only significantly reduces herbage mass from late July to September each LISA BAXTER The author is an extension forage specialist with the University of Georgia who is based in Tifton.

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year. This would generally correspond to the third, fourth, and/or fifth harvest of the year for bermudagrass hay producers in the Deep South states. If the BSM population is not large enough to significantly reduce herbage mass outside of this peak season, then it is not necessary or economical to spray pyrethroid insecticides during the early (May to June) and late (October) harvests. Scouting for the adult BSM flies with sweep net samples can help determine when you need to start spraying. Deferring insecticide applications until at least July would not only reduce economic inputs but would also slow the potential resistance of the BSM to pyrethroids by preventing their overuse.

Penetrate the canopy In our experience, the BSM do not f ly very high or far (less than 10 feet) in any single instance of f light, even

after being disturbed. Preliminary results from on-farm research collaborations with county extension agents and coordinators have shown that the BSM f ly is most active 8 inches above the soil surface and before 11 a.m. Therefore, normal spray boom heights should be effective for chemical applications. Since the BSM flies tend to remain deep in the canopy, applications that do not penetrate the canopy may have limited success. Apply the insecticide in at least 12 to 15 gallons of water per acre to ensure adequate canopy penetration.

On-going research Currently, there are more than a dozen active research trials at the University of Georgia (UGA) related to various aspects of BSM management. The Georgia Beef Commission has supported much of our past and current research efforts. The goals of these tri-

als are to better understand the BSM’s life cycle, screen new insecticides, and fine-tune the management recommendations. In addition, the USDA-ARS forage breeding team in Tifton, Ga., has screened potential new lines for their tolerance to BSM damage. Six potential lines were selected from the group and are undergoing additional testing for yield and forage quality. A new UGA Extension bulletin, “Managing bermudagrass stem maggots,” is available online at www. georgiaforages.com or for immediate download by scanning the QR (Quick Response) code provided. This is the most complete paper available on the BSM and contains a detailed history and overview of the life cycle and previous relevant research. •


KICKSTART ALFALFA An application of AZteroid® FC 3.3 and liquid fertilizer will recharge your alfalfa. • Systemic control of common leaf diseases. • Increases plant health (quicker green up and stem count). • Maximizes yield. • Easy to use - mix it directly with liquid fertilizer. No pre-mixing. vivecrop.com

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Don’t allow weeds and brush to limit the production potential of your pastures.

by Scott Flynn

questionable beliefs and practices that continue to be employed.


Mowing weeds

EED and brush encroachment into pastures and hayfields can lower the ability to meet nutritional needs of most livestock operations. Over time, most producers eventually reduce animal numbers or supplement herds to compensate for forage loss. Meanwhile, a shortened grazing season and a need for more hay is realized as pastures decline. I often tell producers looking for more grazing acres that the cheapest pasture acres they will ever buy are the ones they gain when weeds and brush are controlled. Most producers recognize the negative impacts of weeds on forage production and seek to control these invaders. However, several of the methods used for control lack effectiveness. After years of working to solve many of the pasture weed and brush issues that producers face, my colleagues and I have noted a few

“Mowing is a cheap way to control weeds,” is one often heard statement. Factoring in time, along with fuel, maintenance, depreciation, and storage of equipment, most ag economists will place a minimum cost of $15 per acre on mowing. That’s really not cheap, especially when the results may only last a few weeks. It’s not that mowing can’t control weeds; it’s that the number of mowings and the timeliness of each mowing are critical for long-term control. Effective programs require mowing two to three times each season over two or more years, preventing seed production and exhausting plant energy reserves. If we use the $15 per acre minimum, we’ve spent $60 to $90 per acre for weed control. In addition to cost, there are other issues with mowing. First, mowing also removes desired forage. Each inch of forage that is cut may remove 75 to 400

All photos Mike Rankin

and mistakes

pounds of grazable dry matter per acre, depending on the forage species and density. While mowing forage stands that have slowed or stopped growing can create new, high-quality growth, mowing repeatedly over the season to suppress weeds reduces available forage. Second, plant debris from mowing leaves a dense cover that can smother desirable forages and create bare areas for weeds to invade.

Shred, then spray “Shred trees and brush, then just use herbicide on the saplings that come back.” This may be one of the biggest mistakes made when trying to control woody plants. Once you mow/shred SCOTT FLYNN The author is a field scientist for Corteva Agriscience. He’s based in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

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pastures infested with woody species, you’ve committed yourself to several years of treating woody plant resprouts or emerging saplings. The problem is, while you remove the above-ground growth, there is little effect on the root system that once supported this woody plant. The task now is to get enough herbicide into resprouts and small saplings to kill the disproportionally large roots. It’s much like using a funnel upside down to pour oil in your vehicle. The correct quantity is being used, but it doesn’t all end up where you need it. If possible, foliar- or basal-treat trees and brush and allow them to stand for at least 60 days during the growing season before cutting. This will give the herbicide time to move throughout all parts of the plant. For foliar treatments, make sure leaves of target brush have fully expanded to maximize exposure to the herbicide. Treating leaves that are not fully expanded often will not allow sufficient transport of herbicide to the root system and result in poor control.

Ragweed reflections “My cows eat annual ragweed, so why would I want to kill it?” Annual ragweed can be found in all of the lower 48 states. Cattle gladly consume annual ragweed during the early part of the grazing season. Some cattlemen will even say that they don’t want to control ragweed because it contributes to early season grazing. But there is a fundamental problem with this line of thinking, especially for producers who graze cool-season grass pastures. Annual ragweed is usually being grazed during a time of year when grasses are in abundance. But as the heat of summer approaches, ragweed begins to mature and the palatability declines. Now the once tasty plant is stemmy and unpalatable, competing with desired forages when they are needed the most. In many cases, the early season benefit of ragweed isn’t worth the loss of desired forage incurred during the summer.

High-quality weeds “Weeds have higher crude protein than most forages and should be

grazed.” Yes, many weeds can have high crude protein levels and appear to be quality-competitive with other forage grasses and legumes. As plants mature, they usually become more stemmy and higher in structural carbohydrates, which reduce digestibility and nutrient availability. The outcome is a reduction in available energy and palatability. For example, early vegetative growth of Canada thistle may have a crude protein content that exceeds 25 percent, but once plants have matured those levels may drop below 10 percent. Even if the quality analysis of weeds look spectacular, it is completely meaningless if the animals choose not to graze them. Because crude protein is a rough calculation based on the amount of nitrogen in the plant (percent plant nitrogen times 6.25 equals percent crude protein), we could make the argument that ungrazed weeds are shifting soil nutrients, particularly nitrogen and water that would otherwise be available for growth and quality of desirable forages. We also have to address the issue of why animals choose not to eat certain weeds. Not all plants in the pasture are edible, and the case for grazing them ignores the presence of poisonous plants or those that can cause serious physical damage to the animal. Carolina horsenettle, for example, can be toxic if too much is grazed. Even if grazed under that limit, the horsenettle spines irritate the mouth and esophagus, creating discomfort and reducing forage intake and performance. While livestock can safely graze some weeds, the practice of grazing others is risky and a bit inconsiderate of the animals we care for. In short, it takes more than nutritive value to justify grazing.

More than one way “Herbicides are the only way to keep weeds at bay.” No, they’re not. Herbicides are a great way to shift production back to our desired forage plants and improve our ability to meet livestock nutritional requirements in a low-cost manner. It’s not uncommon to see enhanced forage production of 1 to 1.5 pounds for every pound of weeds controlled. The problem is this doesn’t

last forever when animals and adverse environmental conditions are involved. Proper integration of many practices, including stocking rate, grazing rotation and duration, and the rate and timing of fertilizer and herbicide applications, are critical for holding weeds at bay. Keeping a desirable forage base that is dense and competitive helps hold out these invaders and extends weed control. Going back to a grazing system that encourages heavy patch grazing and little to no rest will result in a reinfestation within a year or less.

Herbicides must be used in conjunction with sound grazing management practices and adequate soil fertility.

If you have ever taken a short course on grazing management, there are some basics that you hopefully learned about keeping forage productive and abundant. The boiled-down version is this: Don’t graze too close, and don’t come back too soon. Animals grazing forage species too low and too frequently reduces plant carbohydrate reserves and slows regrowth. With some species, grazing too close removes the growing point and slows or even stops forage regrowth. Coming back to graze forages too quickly after regrowth further exhausts the plant’s energy reserves. Management that considers and corrects past deficiencies can create a forage system that is much more resilient and resistant to weed infestations, prolonging weed control and building a more competitive and productive forage base. Practices such as fertilizing, burning, and reseeding can also help make stands much more competitive and further complement good grazing practices. • April/May 2019 | hayandforage.com | 25

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All photos Texas A&M University

Sugarcane aphid populations can build rapidly and devastate a forage sorghum crop. Scientists are looking for solutions.



ITH proper chemical application and timing for control of sugarcane aphids, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists have determined forage sorghum in the Texas High Plains is still a viable option. Dairy and feedlot cattle operations across the Southern Great Plains have high demand for large quantities of quality silages annually. Historically, corn silage has been the predominant silage crop, but due to declining well capacities and pumping restrictions,

have been extremely heavy, causing problems when cutting, but data on the actual amount of damage to silage yield and quality from these infestations was nonexistent, Bell said. “We often take the information from the damage potential of SCAs on yield reductions to grain sorghums and infer that the damage will be the same to forage sorghum silages,” she said. “However, with forage sorghums there is a need to determine the impact SCAs have on forage tonnage and silage quality at harvest and on feed quality after being ensiled.” In the trial, a commercial forage sorghum hybrid that is commonly grown for silage on the Texas High Plains was utilized. Insecticides with different levels of efficacy and an untreated check were used to create different SCA infestations and damage levels. Treatments included Sivanto Prime (5, 7, and 10 ounces per acre), Intruder (1 ounce per acre), Warrior II (1.92 ounces per acre), Lorsban Advanced (16 ounces per acre), and an untreated check. Sivanto Prime was used at three different application rates to induce levels of SCA control and damage. Warrior II is a pyrethroid that does not kill SCAs but will kill beneficial insects resulting in a rapid flare of SCA populations. Lorsban Advanced and Intruder are two insecticides that only suppress SCA populations for a few days.

Infestation rates established there are growing opportunities for sorghum to take a greater share of the silage acres. Ed Bynum, AgriLife Extension entomologist, and Jourdan Bell, AgriLife Extension agronomist, both in Amarillo, conducted a field trial to evaluate the damage potential of sugarcane aphids (SCAs) to forage sorghum yield and silage quality. The research was funded by the Texas Grain Sorghum Board. SCA infestations in forage sorghum silages during the past three years

The forage sorghum plots were checked weekly during July for initial infestations of SCAs. By the last week continued on page 28 >>> KAY LEDBETTER The author is a communication specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension.

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affect yield prior to harvesting on September 20, Bynum said. Plant height and dry matter at harvest were not affected by SCA infestations and damage among any of the treatments, Bell said.

Forage damage monitored

Treating forage sorghum with the right insecticide and at the right time can be effective. Left: A field plot treated with Sivanto Prime at 10 fluid ounces per acre. Right: An untreated plot with heavy sugarcane aphid populations and damage.

of July, no SCAs were found in the test plots, but they had been found in a producer’s forage sorghum trial that was 1 mile east of the trial field. Since the SCAs were close by, a decision was made to spray the high-rate Sivanto treatment plots on July 28 to prevent establishment of the SCAs and to try for possible aphid- and damage-free plots. By August 4, a few alate or winged aphids with small numbers of nymphs were starting to be found sporadically across plants. On August 16, SCA counts were taken to determine the variability of numbers among the plots. Sivanto provided excellent control of SCAs when a 10-ounce per acre rate was applied before they began to infest the field and when 5- and 7-ounce rates were applied at flowering before heavy aphid infestations, Bynum said. Both Lorsban Advance and Intruder delayed SCA populations from building for a week, Bynum said. This delay in population flare-up prevented substantial yield losses when sorghum was harvested at the soft dough stage. If the harvest date had been at a later growth stage, the yield losses may have been substantial. A zero to 10 rating system was used with zero being no infestation

or damage and 10 being 90 to 100 percent. The SCA density levels did not begin to cause significant increases in damage levels until September 1 in the untreated and Warrior treated plots, which had 5.75 and 4.5 damage ratings, respectively. The damage levels in these two treatments continued to climb and remained significantly higher than the other treatments from September 8 to 20. As the SCA densities continued building in the Intruder and Lorsban Advanced treatments, the damage ratings also increased more than ratings in the Sivanto treatments, but not as high as the untreated and Warrior ratings, he said. All of the Sivanto treatments equally prevented SCA densities from causing significant damage to the forage sorghum. Bell said the heavy infestations and damage from SCAs in the untreated and the Warrior treatment were the only treatments that saw a significant reduction in yield and percentage of plants lodged when compared among all of the treatments. Although infestations and damage levels began to be significant in the milk and soft dough growth stages in the Intruder and Lorsban treatments, these infestations and damage levels may not have occurred long enough to

When SCA infestations were high enough to cause damage levels ranging from 4.5 to 8 at the beginning of the milk stage, and pressure intensified to harvest, there were significant losses in yield, a higher percentage of plants lodged, and reduced quality of harvested forage, Bell said. The best linear relationship between damage and yield loss occurred at the beginning of milk stage and showed a 2.28-tons-per-acre loss in yield for each unit bump in damage rating between 2 to 8 (see graph). These results indicate substantial losses in yield and economic returns when SCA infestations cause heavy damage during the early grain filling growth stages before soft dough, she said. “While we have previously documented a direct correlation between higher SCA damage and lower forage quality at harvest, we have never evaluated the effect of SCA damage on silage quality,” Bell said. “The harvested forage was ensiled for 60 days, and the quality of the ensiled forage was compared to the quality of the forage at harvest.” Crude protein, lignin, starch, acid detergent fiber (ADF), and in vitro dry matter digestibility (IVTDMD) were affected by insecticide treatment and induced damage. All parameters were negatively affected by the damage created in the untreated and Warrior treatments, but there was no statistical difference between other insecticide treatments for the fresh forage. Calculated indices of forage quality, including total digestible nutrients (TDN), milk per ton, and relative forage quality (RFQ), provide producers an industry standard for forage comparison. At damage levels greater than 4.5, all three indices declined for the harvested forage, reflecting a significant reduction in the fresh, harvested forage quality (see Table).

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Crude protein (CP) and starch are important parameters depending on the end-user’s needs, Bell said. CP and starch levels were directly related to SCA damage and declined with greater damage due to to a lack of grain development.

Quality loss continues “When evaluating the quality after ensiling versus the quality of the forage at harvest, we found that ensiling did not stabilize quality parameters,” Bell said. “Following an ensiling duration of 60 days, there was a significant reduction in lignin, IVTDMD, CP, and starch levels, indicating forage quality was not stable during the ensiling process.” The reduction in lignin, IVTDMD, CP, and starch may have been affected by the chop length of the forage. At damage ratings greater than 4, the forage chop length was not uniform. Irregular and long chop lengths do not pack well and trap oxygen, which can result in aerobic instability during the fermentation process and quality degradation. Calculated indices of forage quality (TDN, milk per ton, and RFQ) were not statistically different after ensiling for 60 days, she said. However, as with the fresh forage, quality indices also dropped as damage levels rose from 4 to 8.

pH, when compared to the other insecticide treatments. “The results show that the level of damage SCAs cause to yield during the milk developmental stages to harvest impacts the quality of the forage sorghum,” Bynum said. “Since populations can develop rapidly, the study concluded SCAs should be controlled to prevent damage during the flowering and early grain developmental growth stages.” Ultimately, the quality of the silage is as good as the quality of the harvested forage, Bell said. When managing forage sorghums, timely SCA control measures are necessary in regions with sugarcane infestation to maintain fresh and ensiled forage sorghum quality. •

While forage quality is a concern for livestock feeders, farmers directly selling forage sorghum silage are more interested in the economic return of the fresh chopped forage, Bell said. If damage levels were greater than or equal to 6 by the soft dough growth stage, there were no losses in yield or economic return. However, when damage levels were 7 to 10, there was a progressive loss in yield and a substantial loss in the economic return. Bell and Bynum said the impact of SCA feeding damage to the forage silage quality components were similar to the losses related to yield. The forage quality in the untreated and Warrior treatments had statistically significant differences for all of the ensiled components, except CP and

Effects of SCA damage on forage sorghum yield 35 30

Beginning milk Sept. 1, 2017

25 20 15 10

y = -2.2794x + 29.476 R2 = 0.8163

5 0












Texas A&M High Plains SCA/ damage rating scale

Mean value for each forage quality component by treatment and ensiled days % (Dry matter basis) Lignin




Milk per ton




8.49 c

6.1 a

11.6 b

41.5 a

70.2 b

48.5 b

2,625.4 b

76.9 b

Warrior II 1.92 oz.

8.7 bc

5.72 a

13.7 b

39.6 a

72.8 b

51 b

2,781.9 b

85.2 b

Lorsban Advanced 16 oz.



9.25 abc

5.11 b

22.7 a

33.5 b

77.9 a

57.4 a

3,188.5 a

111.4 a

Sivanto 1 oz.

9.1 abc

5.1 b

25 a

32.6 b

80.3 a

58.9 a

3,278.4 a

121.7 a

Sivanto 5 oz.

9.19 abc

5.1 b

25.3 a

31.8 b

78.8 a

58.8 a

3,273.5 a

118.5 a

Sivanto 7 oz.

9.6 a

5.07 b

21.6 a

32.9 b

79.3 a

58.4 a

3,243.1 a

118.1 a

Sivanto 10 oz.

9.49 ab

4.98 b

22.8 a

32.2 b

79.7 a

59.5 a

3,327.4 a

122.4 a




Milk per ton


% (Dry matter basis)

Ensiled days





9.49 a

5.5 a

23.4 a

35.6 a

77.9 a


3,089.4 a

108.087 a


8.75 b

5.1 b

17.4 b

34.2 a

76.1 b

56.2 a

3,115.8 a

107.376 a


Means in each column for treatment and ensiled days with the same letter are not significantly different. Tukey-Kramer method for multiple mean separation (P > 0.05).

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Bacterial stem blight is a disease that has a unique association with frost-damaged alfalfa.

More to alfalfa frost damage than meets the eye

knowledge about this problem. The symptoms of frost damage and bacterial stem blight can be separated by close inspection of stems one to two weeks after the frost event. A hard frost will cause the alfalfa stems to bend over with a “shepherd’s crook.” If after a few days the stems straighten back up, the stem is uninjured and will resume growth. However, frost damaged leaves and stems will turn white to tan and start to dry out. Often, the top of the plant is most affected. The symptoms of bacterial stem blight appear seven to 10 days after the frost. Symptoms on stems begin as water-soaked, yellowish to olive green lesions, usually at the point of leaf attachment, and then extend down one side of the stem. Lesions become amber and blacken with age. A stem may have more than one lesion, and the lower three to five internodes are typically the most severely diseased. Leaves become water-soaked, turn yellow, and are often twisted and deformed. A field may often have symptoms of both frost damage and bacterial stem blight.

A protein that mimics ice by Deborah Samac


OST alfalfa producers count on the first harvest in late spring to deliver the highest tonnage and best quality of forage of the year. Late frosts can significantly reduce both yield and quality. Yield losses are due to the physical damage from freezing of the alfalfa stem and leaves and can also be caused by damage from a fascinating bacterial pathogen called Pseudomonas syringae (Sue-doeMOAN-as sigh-RING-ay). When an alfalfa plant breaks dormancy in the spring and new growth starts, the leaves rapidly become sensitive to frost and freezing injury. Exposure to 25°F for as little as two hours will often result in frost injury. The degree of injury depends on many factors such as soil moisture, soil type, field location, surface residue, and the presence of P. syringae on leaves and stems. The contribution of P. syringae to frost

damage has largely been overlooked in the past, although the disease has been reported as widespread in the central and western United States, including the Pacific Coast, and it occasionally occurs in the East. In the elevated, colder valleys of Western mountainous regions, forage losses from first crop harvests have been reported as large as 40 to 50 percent for some cultivars.

Glyphosate association Recognizing bacterial stem blight disease is important to limit damage, reduce the populations of P. syringae, and to protect the field from future damage. In northern California and Utah, researchers have seen a higher frequency of bacterial stem blight and frost damage associated with later applications of glyphosate to Roundup Ready alfalfa. For more information on this phenomenon and how to prevent damage, see bit.ly/HFG-CAblog. Researchers are also asking producers for information on frost damage and bacterial stem blight to help improve

Bacterial stem blight is associated with frost because of a unique protein found in the outer membrane of P. syringae. This protein mimics the crystalline structure of ice and acts as a starting point, or nucleus, for ice formation. Pure water can be “supercooled” to minus 55°F and stay in a liquid form, but ice forms at relatively warmer temperatures when an ice nucleus is present. In the presence of P. syringae, ice can form at 29°F to 25°F and cause damage to plants. The ice protein of P. syringae is such an efficient ice nucleus that it is used in most artificial snow making

DEBORAH SAMAC The author is a plant pathologist with the USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit, St. Paul, Minn.

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operations. In fact, P. syringae is found in clouds and in pristine natural snow and rain, compelling evidence that the bacterium is involved in global water cycles. To watch how the bacteria causes instant freezing of water, see bit.ly/HFG-ice. Leaf surfaces support large populations of 1 to 10 million bacteria that usually live in harmony with the plant without causing any symptoms of disease; P. syringae is often the dominant member of these microbial communities. Populations of P. syringae build during cool, moist weather in spring, moving to emerging leaves by water splash, wind, and insects. The size of the population depends on the host plant and environmental conditions. When P. syringae populations reach a threshold level, the plant is vulnerable to frost damage from ice nucleation activity of the bacterium. This damage creates a break in the leaf

surface, releasing nutrients for bacterial growth and an entry point into the interior of the plant.

Assessing resistance Research by scientists in the USDAARS in St. Paul, Minn., and Beltsville, Md., has investigated both the bacterial and plant components of bacterial stem blight. A standard test was developed for assessing disease resistance and used to screen a number of alfalfa cultivars. Interestingly, the cultivars with the highest percentage of resistant plants were those with high winter survival ratings and strong fall dormancy. These tools will be useful in selecting resistant plants from elite cultivars for improving resistance to this disease problem. By developing resistance to bacterial stem blight, alfalfa plants should suffer less injury from frost and have better field performance. •

Bacterial stem blight symptoms include water-soaked leaves that turn yellow. Often leaves are twisted and deformed

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YNERGY. Our longtime friend Webster defines it as a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct participants or elements. Every farm or ranch has a story. Sometimes it’s a unique agricultural practice. Sometimes it’s eye-popping production of crops or livestock. Sometimes it’s a passion for environmental stewardship. To be sure, there are as many good stories as there are food-production units. But every now and then, I walk away from a farm operation with the feeling that I had experienced something really special. I now count D & G Chopping among this elite group. The real story of

this Tulare, California-based custom harvesting outfit isn’t one of big machinery or rock-solid customer relationships, though both exist. The D & G crowd separator centers on an unshakable bond between two men. Meet Richard “Butch” Gist and Marvin Davis; together, they exude synergy, not to mention success. Given free rein of a conversation, Gist will want to talk about Davis’ virtues, and Davis will want to talk about Gist’s. If they’re together, one will finish the other’s sentences. Their office desks sit about as close together as they can be without touching, Davis on the left, the more elder Gist on the right. This pair embodies more

All photos Mike Rankin

Butch Gist (left) and Marvin Davis (right) traded combines for choppers when dairies took over the Tulare, Calif., agricultural landscape. Together, they own D & G Chopping, a custom forage harvesting business.

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than a good business relationship; it’s an unbreakable connection, which has endured its fair share of tough economic times and enterprise overhauls. The current story of D & G Chopping is a good one; the back story is even better.

Adapt and survive Gist’s grandfather arrived at the farm’s current location in 1884. “He was looking for a high spot of ground that he could farm,” said Gist, who himself is past the 70-year-old mile marker. Through the years, Gist Farms has seen many transformations, most of these prompted by significant changes in the dominant type of agriculture around the Tulare area. Gist’s father was heavily involved in growing white corn for the tortilla and taco market. “When that market died, we had to shut it down,” Gist said. In addition to farming, Gist Farms expanded into a trucking operation when they were able to get contracts to haul corn from the Tulare area to General Mills in Los Angeles. They also started doing a lot of custom grain harvesting. “It was about 20 years ago that the dairies started moving into the area from Southern California,” Gist explained. “In a short period of time, row crops began to disappear, which wasn’t good for an operation that relied

on grain to grow, harvest, and haul. To survive, we quit growing row crops, sold the trucking business, and eventually transitioned the whole farm to nut trees — walnuts and pistachios. When the nut boom hit, we were ready with bearing trees. Next, we traded in the combines for choppers and began harvesting silage for the dairies,” he added. These days, Gist Farms consists of 400 acres of nut trees, a smaller trucking business, a machine fabrication shop, and a nearby railroad spur where commodity feeds are delivered, stored, and moved to local dairies. Operated as a separate business entity, but sharing employees and infrastructure, is D & G Chopping, which is a 50-50 partnership between Gist and Davis.

A good hire Davis, whose parents came to California from Oklahoma during the Great Depression of the 1930s and found work on the famed 7,000-acre, fruit-producing Tagus Ranch, was hired by Gist Farms when he was in high school. That was 43 years ago. “Marvin got a lifetime sentence,” Gist laughed. “They were a pretty big trucking company at the time, and I just stayed with them,” Davis recalled. Stay he did, and during the past years he has lived through the many transitions that the farm has been through. However, it’s

All photos Mike Rankin

D & G Chopping harvests corn silage for five to seven large dairies in the Tulare area.

Gist Farms has survived and flourished amid a number of enterprise changes through the years.

been because of the ups and downs that Davis and Gist have built such a strong personal and business relationship. Davis enjoys dealing with people and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the silage harvesting business. Gist, on the other hand, is a machinery person. “Marvin spends a lot more time on the chopping business than I do,” Gist said. “My deal has always been keeping the machines running and designing stuff. Also, Marvin tolerates paperwork better than I do,” he added. “Butch is an inventor,” Davis said of his lifelong mentor. “He’s gotten a lot of patents through the years. One of his most notable is called a pressure-seal walking floor, which is used in commodity trailers. These are sold all over the world. Most everything he’s invented has been to solve a problem that we’ve had here on the farm,” he added. Gist’s gift for machinery and all things mechanical has been mostly self-taught. “I wasn’t much for schooling because I had dyslexia,” Gist said. “For me, it’s been mostly the school of hard knocks,” chuckled the amiable farmer whose wife, Clare, is a school superintendent in Tulare.

A loyal customer base D & G Chopping isn’t the biggest custom harvesting outfit you’ll find, but they really don’t need to be. These days, they chop about 12,000 acres per continued on following page >>> April/May 2019 | hayandforage.com | 33

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year for five to seven large dairies. That volume is mostly corn silage, but they also chop some first and last cuttings of alfalfa and wheat in the spring. “Wheat is an easy crop to grow,” Gist said. “It’s not a big water-demand crop and can be double-cropped with corn.” “Five of our customers have been with us since before the really big dairy boom started,” Davis noted. “They had some cheaper property and have been able to weather the economic dairy storms. All of our customers are within a 7-mile radius of the farm, and 80 percent of the acres are within 2 miles. Each chopper comes back home every night for servicing,” he added. D & G Chopping runs four New Holland 600 series choppers. Three are usually operating in the field while one is used for a backup. They also provide the dozer-packing tractor, a Challenger wheel model. Even though Gist Farms has a dozen over-the-road trucks to haul commodities and other products, they contract for silage trucks during the harvest season. Gist, always the practical engineer, noted that silage trucks need to be covered by state law to keep debris from blowing on the roadways. “This is also the only place in the U.S. where trucks run on the left side of the chopper. It goes back to the horse and buggy days,” he smiled, but also with a hint of frustration given that most chopper cab controls are on the right side of the operator. Gist Farms, in combination with D & G Chopping, has 25 full-time employees. Several have worked for the Gist-Davis duo for over 30 years. Very little seasonal help is needed because

Butch Gist checks to make sure corn silage is being properly processed. Silage yields in the Tulare area routinely reach 35 to 40 tons per acre.

when they are not working on the chopping crew, they are driving trucks or working in the machine shop. In other words, more synergy.

Put to the test Beyond just being a chopping business, D & G also is a field tester for New Holland forage harvesters. “We’ve been field testing for New Holland for a number of years, and our relationship with them has been an important part of our business,” Gist said. “When the FX choppers came out, they ran fine in Europe, but with our dust, high temperatures, and big tonnages, it was a real challenge to keep them going in our environment. So, it made sense to test them here. When something new is being developed, their engineers will stay here and monitor machines for the entire harvest season. Even when they’re gone, we still talk to the field-test guys in Europe and send

them information on a regular basis,” he added. That hard-knocks diploma spoken of earlier has served Gist well. It’s even taken him to Germany to confer with and advise New Holland’s engineers on the company’s forage harvesters. Despite their management roles, Gist and Davis are not ones to dwell too long in the office. They take a “hands-on” approach, and you’re most likely to find them in the field during harvest or, in Gist’s case, in their modest machine shop. Through the years, these two talented business partners and lifelong friends learned how to adapt and survive. They’ve earned an impeccable reputation in the community and know how to treat their customers. Both would say that their personal relationship has been largely responsible for their business successes. Or, you could just attribute it to synergy. •

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by Jesse Bussard

Feeding hay for better soils


AKING hay is an expensive and time-consuming process, said grazing consultant Jim Gerrish. The price of equipment, fuel, labor, and fertilizer continues to rise, while the value of animal products remain essentially stagnant. On the flip side, Gerrish pointed out, hay can also be a fertility source for organic producers or those desiring to transition away from synthetic fertilizers to build soil health. “Hay as fertilizer provides a full nutrient package rather than just NPK,” Gerrish said. Gerrish noted that in much of the U.S., hay can be bought at a lower price than most farmers would pay to produce and harvest it on their land. This includes the value of all the nitrogen (N) and minerals contained in that hay. According to Gerrish, on average, every ton of hay harvested from a pasture removes approximately 40 to 60 pounds of N, 6 pounds of phosphorus (P), and 30 to 50 pounds of potassium (K), along with a wealth of minerals. At today’s fertilizer and mineral prices, a ton of hay contains nearly $60 in fertilizer value. “You are either getting your feed or your fertilizer for free when the price of the hay is less than the fertilizer value it contains,” Gerrish said.

Spread it out The key to using hay to improve soil health lies in feeding it uniformly over pastures. The trick to doing it right, Gerrish said, is to be aware of how many nutrients are in each bale being fed. Use this information in planning daily feeding so appropriate levels of nutrients are applied. This will help to avoid circumstances where too little is fed and no benefit is achieved, or worst case, too much is fed and the soil and environment are overloaded with excess N. “When you feed hay for fertilizer, we often think of it as a way to reduce the need for purchased fertilizer, especially nitrogen,” Gerrish said. “But have you thought about how much nitrogen you may actually be applying when you feed hay? ” For N specifically, Gerrish explained,

the amount of N in hay is directly tied to its protein content. Protein, on average, contains 16 percent N. Additionally, he said, it’s important to note that grass hay may have less protein than the livestock being fed require while legume hay generally has much more protein than needed. If the hay provides just what the animal needs in terms of protein content, then about 50 percent of the N will be excreted in the feces and urine. In general, livestock excrete 85 to 95 percent of the N consumed, indicating they are getting more protein than required. “Fecal N content changes very little as dietary protein level increases,” Gerrish said. “Nitrogen is slowly released from manure piles as they decompose. Feces breaks down relatively quickly in warm, wet environments and very slowly in cool, dry environments.”

Have a systematic approach In reality, almost all excess N ingested by an animal when protein content of the feed exceeds the animal’s requirement is returned to the soil via urine. Urinary N is a highly soluble and readily available N fertilizer. So, when managing hay feeding for a targeted N application rate, focus your attention on urinary N. “Having a systematic approach to hay feeding is a critical part of maximizing the nutrient benefits you get when feeding hay; it’s a big piece of your pasture fertility program,” Gerrish said. To help visualize this, Gerrish offered this example. There are 250 cows in a herd and they are being fed about 30 pounds of hay per head per day for a total feed requirement of 7,500 pounds per day. There will be some waste, so he rounds up the amount fed to 4 tons of hay per day. In this scenario, hay that is 14 percent crude protein (CP) will return about 31 pounds of urinary N for each ton of hay fed. At an N target application rate of 120 pounds per acre, cattle could be fed hay one day per acre to reach the target rate. Another factor to consider when feeding hay in this manner, Gerrish noted, is manure distribution. In his experi-

ence, when feeding hay on snow-covered ground, he’s found typically 80 percent of the manure falls within 15 to 20 feet of the feed line. Most of the rest is dropped between today’s feeding strip and the stock water. Very little is returned to the pasture at large unless there is residual grass the cattle are picking at.

Have a plan Based on this premise, plan hay feeding to improve soil health accordingly. Using the 14 percent CP hay example and needing to cover one acre every day, the daily feeding regimen should cover a strip one-half mile long. In this example, hay could be fed for 80 days on an 80 acre field to fully fertilize that pasture at 120 pounds N per acre. “It will take a few tries to figure out how fast to drive your pickup when unrolling hay, or how thick to make your flakes off the big square bales, or the needed windrow width coming out of the bale processor,” Gerrish said. “The point is you can get a lot more fertility value out of the hay you are feeding if you approach that daily chore with a firm objective in mind.” Other final tips Gerrish shared to those interested in giving the practice a try are to always purchase weedfree hay when buying off the ranch. He also recommended producers have a provisional plan for when they might not be able to unroll or flake hay on the target area due to excessive mud or snow. •

Learn more by reaching out to Gerrish at www.americangrazinglands.com.

JESSE BUSSARD The author is a freelance writer from Bozeman, Mont., and has her own communications business, Cowpunch Creative.

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Improving fall yield in tall wheatgrass by Mike Trammell


HE Southern Great Plains can provide an abundance of forage for putting weight on stocker cattle. However, problems can arise during April and May and again from September to November when the region does not produce enough quality forage for livestock to achieve good weight gains (Figure 1). These forage gaps can wreak havoc on livestock producers’ planning and bottom lines, often forcing them to resort to costly feed supplements so their cattle can continue to gain weight. One of the major goals of the Noble Research Institute has been to develop perennial cool-season forages that could fill these forage gaps from autumn through spring in the Southern Great Plains. Having no forage gap would mean that more cattle could be economically grazed or that grazing livestock could be retained longer. Once improved varieties are successfully created, their performance is analyzed through extensive evaluations, such as livestock grazing trials, to assess their economic impact and safety and to develop crop management practices that capitalize on the new cultivars’ value-added traits. For the majority of the last 20 years, perennial grass breeding efforts at the Noble Research Institute have been centered on developing cultivars of tall fescue to fill forage gaps when bermudagrass is dormant or to replace or complement the planting of winter annuals such as winter wheat or cereal rye. These efforts have been successful with the development and release of Texoma MaxQ II in 2008 and Chisholm summer-dormant tall fescue in 2016.

Why not tall wheatgrass? In our initial search for gap fillers for the Southern Great Plains, we tested some cool-season grasses not as commonly used in the region but often used as forage elsewhere. One of these cool-season grasses was tall wheatgrass, which is more commonly used

as forage for grazing livestock in the Northern Great Plains and the intermountain regions of the western U.S. Tall wheatgrass is a cool-season perennial bunchgrass that is useful for both hay and pasture. It can grow as tall as 10 feet in the right conditions but averages 3 to 4 feet in height. It is adapted to a wide range of soil types and climates but is often recommended

Plainsmen tall wheatgrass offers improved persistence and higher fall yields.

for regions with at least 12 to 14 inches of rainfall or sites with high water tables. It is very winterhardy and can grow at elevations up to 6,000 feet. It is also well adapted to saline-alkaline-type soils, where few other species will survive, and its yields are unsurpassed under these conditions. Tall wheatgrass can also be established in soils with a pH as high as 8.

Improved persistence Tall wheatgrass, because of its late maturity (early to mid-July in the Southern Great Plains), provides a long grazing period when used for pasture. At first glance, this seems like the perfect fit to fill forage gaps and extend the grazing season. However, one issue with tall wheatgrass has always been its low palatability and the coarseness of its leaves, especially late in the growing season. To avoid this issue, plants should be grazed heavily to keep them

in a vegetative state. However, this heavy grazing can lead to poor stand life over time. As part of a larger effort to develop perennial cool-season grasses for the Southern Great Plains, the Noble Research Institute began work in 1997 to improve the persistence and yields of tall wheatgrass. Recently the Noble Research Institute released a new tall wheatgrass cultivar called Plainsmen. Plainsmen was selected from the publicly released tall wheatgrass cultivar Jose, which was developed by the Agricultural Experiment Station of New Mexico State University and the USDA Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) in 1965 for its drought and saline-alkaline tolerance. Plainsmen was released for its improved persistence under grazing and its higher forage yields, especially in the fall. After three years of intensive grazing at Vernon, Texas, stands of Plainsmen were 75 percent greater than those of Jose, and under dryland conditions at Iowa Park, Texas, Plainsmen produced 45 percent more fall forage over three years than Jose (Table 1). This increase in fall forage when the leaves are not as coarse can be highly desirable to grazing livestock. Plainsmen has excellent seedling vigor but, like most wheatgrasses, can be slow to establish. Seed can be cleantilled or no-tilled into a firm, weed-free seed bed at a rate of 10 to 15 pounds of pure live seed (PLS) per acre. To ensure good establishment, haying and grazing should be deferred until the second growing season when plants are

MIKE TRAMMELL The author is a senior plant breeder at the Noble Research Institute.

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Figure 1. Typical forage production system in the Southern Great Plains 3,500 3,000


at least 8 inches tall. This grass is also beneficial as a perennial ground cover, which includes controlling soil erosion and water runoff, limiting water evaporation during summer, and boosting soil health by improving the overall physical and chemical properties of the soil. Tall wheatgrass also offers excellent cover for wildlife, and livestock can use it for protection during calving or lambing season. Plainsmen tall wheatgrass seed will be commercially available through Johnston Seed Co. (Enid, Okla.) beginning in fall 2019. •

Winter annual


Warm-season perennial

2,000 1,500 1,000 500 0 Jan












Table 1. Seasonal forage yields of Plainsmen and Jose tall wheatgrass over three years at Iowa Park, Texas Forage yield Fall harvest Tall wheatgrass



Summer harvest 2008






Pounds/acre Plainsmen


















Plots harvested on 12/20 in 2006, 12/6 in 2007, and 12/11 in 2008. Plots harvested on 6/28 in 2006, 7/24 in 2007, and 7/17 in 2008.

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4/17/19 11:07 AM

by Sandya Kesoju and Stephanie Greene


LFALFA is an important livestock feed, especially for dairy production and horses. Genetically-modified (GMO) resistance to glyphosate herbicide became available to farmers in 2011. In 2014, a second GMO trait, reduced-lignin, was deregulated and marketed as HarvXtra. The reduced-lignin alfalfa trait was achieved through RNAi-mediated targeted silencing of CCMOT, a key enzyme in the lignin biosynthesis pathway. Traditional alfalfa varieties are required to be cut prior to significant f lowering if high-quality hay is desired. The reduced-lignin HarvXtra alfalfa trait helps solve the nutritional quality issues associated with delayed cutting. Reduced-lignin alfalfa is intended to provide hay growers with greater flexibility in harvest timing and potentially boost forage yields. In the U.S., growers typically use a 28-day cutting schedule (less than 10 percent bloom) to produce three or more cuttings of alfalfa during a growing season. This regime allows little room for weather events such as rainstorms or humid drying conditions that delay cutting. If they do occur, forage quality is compromised, although delayed cutting generally improves hay yields. For an alfalfa grower, yield (longer cutting window) and quality (shorter cutting window) have always been at odds. With HarvXtra varieties, the harvest window can be extended for up to

35 days, which is the point of maturity where forage quality is equal to conventional varieties that are normally cut at 28 days.

Enhanced gene flow risk The delayed cutting strategy can potentially result in the elimination of a seasonal harvest while also capturing additional yield. However, more plants will reach the flowering stage and perhaps lead to a higher risk for adventitious presence (AP, or unwanted genes in seed lots) of GMO genes in areas where non-GMO varieties are grown for seed. Dan Putnam, extension forage specialist with the University of California-Davis, reported that gene flow from GMO hayfields to conventional seed fields would be influenced by several factors. These include: • degree and duration of flowering within the seed field • abundance of the pollen • pollinator species, abundance, and activity • distance between fields Because alfalfa is an outcrossing, bee-pollinated crop, the potential for gene flow has been widely recognized. Adventitious presence is a concern because the U.S. is a major exporter of alfalfa seed and hay, and many countries have regulatory requirements for GMO-free products. The organic industry also requires GMO-free feeds. There has been concern that GMO hay may contribute enough GMO pollen to

Mitigation strategies

Mike Rankin

Maintaining genetic purity in alfalfa seed fields

cause AP levels in nearby conventional seed fields that would negatively impact AP-sensitive markets. Recognizing the need to support all facets of the market, the alfalfa industry has developed several coexistence programs to minimize pollen gene flow. Industry facilitated the development of Grower Opportunity Zones (GOZ), areas where the production of GMO or AP-sensitive alfalfa seed is concentrated. Genetically modified GOZs allow the production of GMO and conventional AP-tolerant seed lots, while AP-sensitive GOZs support the production of AP-sensitive seed lots, and genetically engineered seed production is not allowed. Industry has led efforts to develop a set of best management practices for GMO and AP-sensitive seed producers. They have also developed coexistence documents for alfalfa hay and seed exports and organic hay and seed markets. The Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA) has developed the Alfalfa Seed Stewardship Program (ASSP), a certification program to support marketing of AP-sensitive alfalfa seed. Where feasible, producers of AP-sensitive seed can further reduce the risk of gene flow to the seed field from other varieties of hay in several ways: 1. Use greater isolation distances (2 miles) from all hayfields of unknown variety, from hayfields known to be planted to GMO varieties, and from hayfields not under the seed grower’s direct management. 2. Stock pollinator species that range shorter distances, especially in the Pacific Northwest where most of the alfalfa seed is produced.

SANDYA KESOJU Kesoju (pictured) is the director for agriculture education, research, and development at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash. Greene is with the Plant and Animal Genetic Resource Preservation Unit, USDA-ARS, Fort Collins, Colo.

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3. Harvest the seed field border as a separate lot and work to coexist with neighbors who grow alfalfa for forage. 4. Work with local seed certification agencies and use greater isolation distances and buffer zones, or use other identity-preserved practices for their AP-sensitive seed fields. 5. Educate hay and seed growers about gene flow risk and coexistence practices, especially in areas where alfalfa is exported or where AP-sensitive alfalfa seed is produced.

More research needed

Although alfalfa is often cut before flowering, there are still potential sources for gene flow from GMO fields. Top: Alfalfa plants flowering along the hayfield border. Bottom: Alfalfa left uncut around irrigation sprinklers.

Issues with delayed cutting of reduced-lignin alfalfa have been minimally explored; therefore, my colleagues and I were interested in quantifying the extent of gene movement from GMO hayfields to conventional seed fields on a landscape level to provide the industry with information to support coexistence strategies. •

109 million

head of livestock are fed by forages in the US. This is more than the combined population of the four most populated states of the USA.

1/4 of all acres in the US produces forage, for a total of

528 million acres in forage alone.

An acre of forage can prevent

June 16–22, 2019

2 million pounds

of soil from eroding each year.


50 percent

Forages are the most important plants on earth. Forage grasses provide most of the nutrition for cattle, sheep, goats, horses and other livestock as well as wildlife habitat.

of the total land area of the US is occupied by forage.

Forage accounts for about

25 percent

of the total value of agriculture in the US.

A dairy cow consuming 1 acre of forage for a year can produce enough milk to fill a bowl of cereal that is

An effort to raise awareness to the importance and impact of forages.

14’ x 7’. United States dairy farmers use forage to produce

61.4 million tons

of alfalfa was produced by US farmers in 2015. In small square bales, this would reach from the earth to the moon and back again 24 times.

20 billion gallons

28.9 million tons

of forage was produced by US farmers in 2015, which is equal to the weight of 80 Empire State buildings.

of milk each year. It is enough for each person in the US to drink 1 gallon per week for the entire year.

To learn more, visit http://afgc.org Forage facts compiled by the American Forage & Grassland Council

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All photos Mike Rankin

HE’S GOT IT COVERED by Mike Rankin


IM Wulf likes to feed cattle, but he’s also a man who spends a lot of time thinking about soil and its capability to grow plants. It’s that undeniable dependency between soils, plants, and cattle that drives Wulf to learn and experiment every year. The result: A western Minnesota farm, blessed with natural springs, that cranks out high-quality forage in the same way it cranks out high-quality water. Wulf and his wife, Twyla, bought their current farm about seven years ago and tabbed it Clear Springs Cattle Company. He formerly had worked on a large cattle operation near Morris, Minn., with his brothers. “We have a lot of rocks and rolling hills, but this is good cattle land,” said Wulf, who owns 1,100 acres and leases nearly that much more. About 400 acres of the farm are tillable and it is on these acres that corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay are produced. A center pivot provides water for 170 acres of the cropland. But make no mistake, everything done on this operation is planned and executed for the benefit of Wulf’s 350 Simmental and Sim-Angus mother cows along with the associated seedstock, all of which are genomic tested.

Three years, five crops Wulf has always had an interest in annual forages or what many call cover crops. “I remember 20 years ago plant-

ing turnips following wheat on a limited basis,” he said. These days, there’s nothing limited to the way he fits them into his crop rotation and utilizes them for grazing. He also relies heavily on a cover crop consultant for guidance. Wulf’s preferred crop rotation begins with corn. He then interseeds a cover crop mix into the crop using an air

lowing harvest in the fall he will no-till either winter wheat or winter rye into the soybean residue. “The nice thing about the winter cereals is that we can get some straw and they come off early enough that we can no-till our cover crops in much earlier, which provides a lot of forage for fall and early winter grazing,” Wulf said. “Essentially, we’re growing five crops in three years.” When an alfalfa-orchardgrass mix hayfield is terminated, that is followed by corn to take advantage of the nitrogen credits. If establishing a new hayfield by no-till, that is done following soybeans using an oat-pea companion crop. “We try to no-till everything,” Wulf said. “It’s a system that we’re still trying to perfect.”

Jim Wulf is naturally blessed with good water for his cattle. He also provides a lot of good forage.

Likes diversity

seeder and rotary hoe when the corn is 1 to 2 feet tall. Following corn harvest (either silage, earlage, or dry grain), cattle are allowed to graze the cover crop. Wulf explained that they don’t like to run the stalk chopper on the combine when cover crops are growing underneath because it creates too much mulch and a smothering effect. “We prefer to have the stalks left standing; this makes it easier for no-tilling, too,” he said. The next spring, soybeans are no-tilled into the corn stubble, and fol-

Wulf is not partisan when it comes to cover crop mixtures. “I like to have 10 to 15 different plant species in our mixes,” he said. “We get them premixed and work closely with our local supplier. Right now, our mixtures contain cereal grains, turnips, radishes, clovers, lentils, rape, and sudangrass. If we have any extra soybean or corn seed around, we throw that in there, too. We believe the multiple species is what really helps the soil health because you’re feeding and aiding different soil organisms. We want a living root in the ground year-round.” When using row crop acres for graz-

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ing, there is also the matter of infrastructure — fences and water. Wulf has a brother who puts in tile lines. He has utilized him to bury 6-foot deep water lines in each crop field. Water is then supplied from the home well and pushed up to 2 miles to reach some fields. “What I hope happens some day is that a few of my cash grain farm neighbors with cover crops will call me and want to lease my cows for grazing,” Wulf said. “The cow makes that cover crop even better when it’s converted into manure and urine.” The resourceful Wulf is already working with some neighbors who allow him to plant cover crops after their wheat and bring his cattle over to graze. “We also do some cornstalk grazing on neighbors’ land as well,” he said. Wulf’s own permanent pastures are rotationally grazed, though not intensively. He explained, “Most of our paddocks are 10 to 20 acres and get grazed twice per year. We move cattle about every four to five days, and our watering stations service several paddocks.” On average, Wulf’s cattle graze with no or little additional forage supplementation from mid-May to December. He has grazed as late as February, depending on the weather.

Variety of feeds Just as Wulf’s cover crop mix encompasses a diverse mixture, his stored feed supply is also multifarious. In addition to grazed forage, he has at his disposal dry hay, baleage, corn silage, earlage,

and small grain silage. The silage and earlage are stored in silage bags. This variety of feeds lets him mix and match the nutrient content of the feed to the nutritional requirements of the various cattle classes, including bulls which he sells throughout the U.S. Though all of the corn is custom harvested, Wulf makes his own hay and baleage. “In Minnesota, it’s hard to know what you’ll need for hay, but you have to be prepared,” Wulf said. “Our fall cover crops could be buried with snow in early December or they could be usable until early February. We plan for the worst-case scenario, then sell hay if we have extra,” he added. Wulf calves his cows during early winter and weans the calves in mid-August. “If we can have some high-quality grazing in September and October and put some really good condition on the cows before the rough weather sets in, they seem to do really well,” he explained. “Before they calve, we like to feed them a little oatlage, which helps keep the energy and birthweights down. Then after calving, which is done at the home farm facilities, cows and calves are put back out on pastures. There, they are also fed our best hay and corn silage in a total mixed ration (TMR). We like to feed our younger cows some baleage as well,” he said.

More public lands grazing Wulf’s passion to improve the productivity and health of his own land base spills over to public lands as well. As a member

of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association board of directors, he has gone to the state capital to advocate the benefits of grazing cattle on public lands as an alternative to burning or doing nothing. Bordering Wulf’s land is an abundance of public lands, including that owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Glacial Lakes State Park is also a near neighbor. “We currently graze nearly 300 acres of the Fish and Wildlife Service land on a short-term, 30 to 45 days basis,” Wulf explained. That occurs for two years and then they give it a break for two years. “We also graze some DNR land but would like to graze more in the state park. This isn’t being looked at as a permanent grazing alternative, but rather a means to give our own land a break. By doing so, it allows me to stockpile more forage to graze later in the fall and winter and the livestock provide a benefit to the health of the public lands. Our conversations with the state agencies have been cordial and, I think, productive,” he added. Productive and healthy — those are the two words that continue to arise in a conversation with Wulf as he speaks of his land, his cattle, and public lands. He’s still in a learning mode but has found at least some answers in cover crops and no-tilling; however, the journey is ongoing. Said Wulf, “I don’t think we’re close to knowing everything we need to know about managing cover crops and the impact they have on soil health.” •

TOP LEFT: Wulf has success interseeding a cover crop mix into corn. It is grazed in the fall and early winter. BOTTOM LEFT: In addition to grazing, winter forage supplementation includes baleage, corn silage and earlage, and small grains silage. The farmstead is immaculate. BELOW: Wulf unloads corn silage into a silage bag.

April/May 2019 | hayandforage.com | 41

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Missouri forage app improves profits by Linda Geist, Stacey Hamilton, and Ryan Lock


HROUGH a Conservation Innovation Grant from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, the University of Missouri is developing tools to improve the yield and nutritive value of pasture forages. One of the newest technologies, PaddockTrac, helps producers make sound decisions on when to graze and when to fertilize pastures, according to Extension Dairy Specialist Stacey Hamilton. It also helps producers track forage inventory and decide where to graze cattle first, and then consider if there is extra forage to harvest for hay or silage. In 2006, a Grazing Wedge tool (grazingwedge.missouri.edu) was developed to help farmers with these decisions. To use the tool, farmers still had to walk over pastures, using rising plate meters, to measure forage yield. They manually entered data into the website every week. The Grazing Wedge website helped forage managers for years but required a lot of time walking across pastures to take measurements and then manually enter the data on the website every week. “This process needed to be improved to reduce the labor needed to collect the necessary data,” said Ryan Lock, a research specialist at the University of Missouri.

forage inventory of your farm,” Hamilton explained. “Instead of knowing how many bales of hay you have stored in the barn and then subtracting bales as they are used, or adding bales, the tools tell you how much forage you have available for feed or harvest.” PaddockTrac also lets producers decide if their pregrazing forage mass is right for the desired postgrazing residual. “How long cows stay on a paddock; the amount of supplement needed, if any; nitrogen application; and the amount of forage available for haying or silage

An improved approach Hamilton, Lock, and Missouri Extension Forage Specialist Rob Kallenbach made the process easier, more affordable, and less time consuming when they developed the PaddockTrac app. The automated tool uses ultrasonic sensors to measure forage yield in pastures. Sensors mounted on an all-terrain vehicle send data to the producer’s smartphone via Bluetooth. PaddockTrac stores both GPS location and forage height 10 times per second on the user’s smartphone. The phone uploads data to a GIS-based website and then an online tool accurately assigns the data to an individual paddock. Once completed, the producer can see their Grazing Wedge showing forage yield in each paddock, sorted from high to low. This allows producers to be proactive in their decision-making, said Hamilton. “Basically, the tools give a weekly

Waypoints along the traveled path are mapped in paddocks as data is collected. The output helps producers see how well they covered their farm.

can be estimated through the use of these web-based tools,” Hamilton said. “As a result of proper measurement and monitoring, improvements in forage yield, enhanced nutritive value, improved longevity of stands, and better utilization of forage by grazing animals can be realized. This app allows adaptive management strategies in forage systems that mitigate overgrazing, degraded plant vigor, and soil loss.”

The team’s first attempt to use ultrasonic sensor technology began in 2008. “The initial idea came from our need to measure hundreds of paddocks each week for Kallenbach’s grazing experiments,” said research specialist Danny England. England located sensors that fed data into a military-grade laptop computer mounted onto an all-terrain vehicle. It could withstand rugged travel over pastures. However, the cost of the military-grade laptop made this option too expensive for most farmers, Hamilton said, and drove the team to find another means that made the tools user-friendly and affordable for the average producer. Extension specialists in Missouri offer group and one-on-one training on how to use the grazing tools as part of an integrated system.

User proven Fourth generation Monett, Mo., dairy farmer Mike Meier and his wife, Janan, know the value of incrementally putting new systems in place. They are beta testers for the PaddockTrac program. Working on this project and others has improved the Meier’s profits and herd health. It also has given them more time to spend with family. Meier is a believer in the PaddockTrac system that gives him better profits in the unstable dairy industry. Naysayers are “leaving money on the table,” he commented. He estimates that those not using technology can lose 5 to 7 pounds of milk per cow daily. Hamilton agreed. When farmers get cows to eat nutrient-filled grass, it means better gains, more milk, and healthier cows. Long-term benefits of the research give producers the incentive to try new ideas. “The biggest motive to stick with it is profit,” Meier said. Some people yearn for data-driven methods; others find them a burden. “It is very difficult to manage what you don’t know,” Meier explained. Hamilton said the key is to start slow and improve the operation each year. • LINDA GEIST Geist (pictured) is a strategic communication associate with the University of Missouri. Hamilton is an extension dairy specialist and Lock is a research specialist, both with the University of Missouri.

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by John Goeser

Time hay cutting by ditching the calendar


ORKING closely with growers the past 10 years, I too often recognized that high-quality forage didn’t materialize with a traditional harvest approach. Herein, I’m defining this traditional approach as cutting hay or haylage crops on a schedule somehow connected to a calendar. For example, planning to cut hay for the first time on Memorial Day weekend or every 28 days with subsequent cuts. The calendar approach may have been more reasonable in years past when margins per hundredweight (cwt.) of milk were strong, but growers and managers need to be more aggressive and strive for improved digestible forage yield. Average simply isn’t good enough anymore, and we’re capable of producing meat and milk at lesser costs per cwt. by stepping up our forage strategies. We can get there by throwing the calendar out, scouting fields, and cutting based on plant growth stage and maturity.

Have a plan Prior to getting into fields, the definition of “high quality” needs to be addressed and agreed upon with your team. In years past, your quality goal might not have been 200 RFQ, but perhaps it should be. In a prior column, “Managing the yield and quality tradeoff” (Hay & Forage Grower, February 2017), we discussed balancing yield and quality. In your team meeting, run partial budgets evaluating yield differences versus nutrition and performance gains. The outcome might surprise you. In my experience, 200 RFQ alfalfa

can pay back big over lesser quality (for example, 150 RFQ). Let’s recognize growers out West for showing the rest of the U.S. what’s routinely possible with RFQ. Western growers have historically cut alfalfa crops more aggressively and the result is higher quality. To visualize this, note the RFQ trends measured at Rock River Laboratory for hay in the West (Figure 1; blue line) relative to the haylage in the Midwest and East (green and red lines, respectively) during the past two years. The West bounces up around 200 RFQ, while the red and green lines hold tight around 150 RFQ. This is an example of how management can impact quality. With a partial budget-backed goal for your farm coming out of your team meeting, the next step is to develop a plan that will make it happen. As the season approaches, accompany your crop advisers as they scout fields. Growing environment (Mother Nature) and seed genetic advances the past few years seem to have wreaked havoc on the traditional management approach. For example, in the past five years, I’ve observed buds forming on alfalfa in as little as 17 days following the prior cut date. Waiting to 28 days in that case would have resulted in heifer feed. Scouting never fails, and beyond plant maturity, it can also help us be on top of plant disease pressure, nutrient deficiencies, or other mid-season quality deterrents.

Know when to go To time your cuts, follow these basic principles: For first cut, use the predic-

Figure 1. Historical haylage or hay RFQ by region

tive equations for alfalfa quality (PEAQ) or growing degree days (GDD) for mostly alfalfa stands. These are researchbacked tools to help forecast leaf-to-stem ratio and RFQ. Consider scissors clips of standing forage to confirm predicted RFQ as your team gets ready to cut. For second and later cuts (or alfalfagrass or grass stands), scissors clip samples are the best option. Start by scouting fields about 15 to 20 days after the prior cut and then take scissors clippings for laboratory analysis as soon as anything that resembles a bud is apparent. Use garden shears and aim for at least three scissors clips, each from a 1-square foot area, for each field you sample. With larger fields, consider one subsample for every 10 acres in field size. Then, carefully (with gloves on), cut up all of the subsamples in a bucket into about 1-inch pieces, mix, and send a roughly 1-pound sample to your laboratory for RFQ analysis. Scissors clips are necessary because PEAQ and GDD are less sound for predicting quality with alfalfa-grass blends, grass, or for second and later cuttings. University extension groups have also historically offered reports for regional quality trends as the season unfolds. In addition to extension efforts, the crowdsourced results-sharing and free download smartphone app, FeedScan, will showcase RFQ results in your area through the harvest season. Simply download the app and click the “InField Updates” section to view RFQ results in your area for those who have sampled and shared. For both PEAQ and scissors clips, recognize that the quality measured that day is for the standing crop. Roughly 5 to 15 points of RFQ are lost through harvest (leaf loss) and fermentation losses. Thus, to capture and feed out 200 RFQ, the stand should be cut at around 215 RFQ. •






East-haylage 2017-07

Midwest-haylage 2018-01


Date (year-month)

West-dry hay 2019-01

The author is the director of nutrition research and innovation with Rock River Lab Inc., and adjunct assistant professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Dairy Science Department.

April/May 2019 | hayandforage.com | 43

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Virginia Grazing School for Producers

Hay prices steady to stronger

May 7 and 8, Middleburg, Va. Details: vaforages.org/event

First cutting can’t come too early for many U.S. hay producers who are looking to start filling barns and silos after an extended and challenging winter and spring. Another USDA report on hay stocks is scheduled for May and most are predicting year-over-year declines.

Alfalfa in the South Workshop May 7, Troy, Ala. Details: bit.ly/HFG-AlfalfaSouth

Alfalfa and Small Grains Field Day May 15, University of California-Davis Details: ucanr.edu/blogs/Alfalfa

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Four-State Dairy Nutrition Conference June 12 and 13, Dubuque, Iowa Details: fourstatedairy.org

Matching Forage Quality to Performance June 14, Marietta, Okla. Details: noble.org/events

UGA/UF Corn Silage and Forage Field Day June 20, Tifton, Ga. Details: georgiaforages.com/events

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For weekly updated hay prices, go to “USDA Hay Prices” at hayandforage.com Supreme-quality hay California (northern SJV) California (central SJV) California (southeast) Colorado (southeast)-lrb Idaho Iowa-ssb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana Montana-ssb Oregon (Lake County) Oregon (Lake County)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast) Texas (north, central, east) Texas (Panhandle) Utah (all regions) Washington (Columbia Basin) Premium-quality alfalfa California (intermountain and SV) California (southeast) California (southern) Colorado (southeast) Colorado (southeast)-ssb Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Minnesota (Sauk Centre)-lrb Missouri Montana Nebraska (east/central)-lrb Oklahoma (central/western) Oregon (Klamath Basin)-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Texas (Panhandle) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Washington (Columbia Basin) Wyoming (central/western)-ssb Good-quality alfalfa Colorado (northeast) Idaho Iowa-ssb Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Missouri Montana Nebraska (western) Nebraska (Platte Valley)-lrb Oklahoma (central/western) Oregon (Klamath Basin)

Price $/ton 265-270 270 215-220 225 160 240-300 185-215 275-280 200-250 150 200-250 205-215 250 320-360 290-310 265-295 170-200 235-240 Price $/ton 240 205 319 240-250 260 175-193 170-200 170-195 175-195 175-200 150 125 200-210 175 280-310 178 330 195-265 255 200-215 Price $/ton 191 160 110-175 140-163 160-175 160-165 220-280 120-160 120-135 160 110-115 180-190 180

Pennsylvania (southeast)-ssb (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb South Dakota (East River) Texas (Panhandle) (d) Virginia (Rushville) Washington (Columbia Basin) Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb Wyoming (eastern) Fair-quality alfalfa California (northern SJV) Idaho Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) (o) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb Minnesota (Sauk Centre) (d) Missouri (d) Montana Nebraska (western) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb South Dakota (East River)-lrb Utah (northern) Wisconsin (Lancaster) Wyoming (central/western) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb Alabama-Good lrb Oklahoma (eastern)-Good lrb Texas (Panhandle)-Good/Premium Texas (south)-Good/Premium lrb Bromegrass hay Kansas (southeast)-Good ssb Kansas (southeast)-Good lrb Missouri-Good

240-310 130-155 180-200 250-265 150 185-215 175-230 150-160 Price $/ton 190 (d) 130 120-138 140-170 135-145 175-255 100-120 105-125 140 118-128 140 60-90 168-170 130 Price $/ton 90-133 90 180 205-240 120-200 Price $/ton 150-160 125-135 120-150

Orchardgrass hay California (intermountain)-Premium Oregon (Crook-Wasco)-Premium Virginia (Rushville)-Good Timothy hay (d) Montana-Premium ssb Montana-Good-ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good (d) Washington (Columbia Basin)-FR/G ssb Oat hay Kansas (southeast) Oregon (Lake County)-Good/Premium Straw Alabama Iowa Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (north central/east) Minnesota (Sauk Centre) Montana Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

Price $/ton 240 235 155 Price $/ton 225-240 160-180 205-270 220 Price $/ton 150-160 130 Price $/ton 73 100-130 100 100-110 125-160 35-40 270-325 115

Abbreviations: d=delivered, lrb=large round bales, ssb=small square bales, o=organic

50 | Hay & Forage Grower | April/May 2019

F2 50 April-May 2019 Forage IQ.indd 1

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