Hay & Forage Grower - March 2020

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March 2020

Keep round bales dry pg 6 He zigs when others zag pg 16 Soil carbon impacts plant protein pg 20

Published by W.D. Hoard & Sons Co.

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A mystery and reality pg 24

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SAVE ON SELECT NEW KUHN BALERS Take advantage of discounts on select FB/VB round balers, VBP round baler-wrapper combinations or SB/LSB large square balers with special coupon offerings from KUHN. Visit your local dealer or our website today for details and to receive your coupon. Offers end: April 9, 2020

March 2020 · VOL. 35 · No. 3 MANAGING EDITOR Michael C. Rankin ART DIRECTOR Todd Garrett EDITORIAL COORDINATOR Jennifer L. Yurs ONLINE MANAGER Patti J. Hurtgen DIRECTOR OF MARKETING John R. Mansavage ADVERTISING SALES Kim E. Zilverberg kzilverberg@hayandforage.com Jenna Zilverberg jzilverberg@hayandforage.com ADVERTISING COORDINATOR Patti J. Kressin pkressin@hayandforage.com



Keep your bales dry to conserve value

Researchers in South Dakota and Wisconsin offer a convincing look at round bale moisture accumulation based on storage orientation.

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 9 The Pasture Walk 10 Dairy Feedbunk 14 Alfalfa Checkoff 19 Beef Feedbunk



22 Feed Analysis 30 Forage Gearhead

He zigs when others zag

Ryegrass drives this full-service farm

This western Iowa hay producer never was one to follow his peers.

Fischer Farms has used ryegrass to improve both its soils and cattle.

31 Machine Shed 38 Forage IQ 38 Hay Market Update






















A Red Angus heifer grazes in waist-deep switchgrass at the Southern Indiana Purdue Agricultural Center near Dubois. The research facility has 530 acres of pasture and fall calves 170 cows. A hair sheep flock and meat goat herd are also maintained at the Center. Jason Tower has been the station’s superintendent since June 2000. Photo by Michaela King

HAY & FORAGE GROWER (ISSN 0891-5946) copyright © 2020 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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Mike Rankin Managing Editor

T A very early age, most children master the question of “Why?” “Why did Barney (the dog) die?” “Because he was old, and his parts wore out.” “Why?” “Because that’s how it is with most living things in this world.” “Why?” “Because God kind of set things up that way.” “Why?” And on it goes for as long as the parent’s stamina holds out. We’d like to think that we grow out of our childlike curiosity, but we never really do. Life and farming provide us with a never-ending list of “Why?” questions. I was recently at a conference where the speaker gave a presentation titled “Why have alfalfa yields flatlined?” This was just the latest in a long line of similar talks I’ve heard (and given) over the years based on the same premise. Another angle to this question is, “Why are farm alfalfa yields lower than the 8 to 10 tons per acre achieved in small research plots?” These questions are troublesome for alfalfa growers and certainly frustrating for those who work in the alfalfa industry. Alfalfa breeders understandably don’t like the insinuation that after a lifetime of work, no progress has been made. Alfalfa feeding on dairy farms is down largely because corn silage provides more tonnage per acre and lower alfalfa yields raise per ton harvesting costs. To be fair, however, we do need to recognize that one-half of the corn silage yield is grain, not forage. Let’s tackle the low-hanging fruit first. Ten-ton alfalfa yields achieved in nonirrigated research plots are often on prime land, experience no heavy field traffic, and are greenchopped, so there is minimal harvest loss. Those three factors alone can bump measured yields 30% or more compared to what we see on a typical farm. Also recognize that many alfalfa variety performance trials don’t average anywhere close to 10 tons per acre. So, what’s holding back alfalfa from achieving its full-yield potential that we know is possible from those 10-ton research yields?

One reason may simply be that your ancestors decided to drop the Conestoga wagon’s anchor at a location with less than optimum soil conditions for growing alfalfa. That’s just tough luck. Another reason, and a big reason in my opinion, is water. Irrigated alfalfa growers in the Northwest with essentially the same growing season as the Midwest and East are able to add 2 or more tons per acre to their total-season yields with the ability to control water. Nonirrigated alfalfa can be hurt significantly by too much water, the timing of water, and not enough water. I have always maintained that alfalfa has multiple growing seasons within a year. Those occur from one cutting to the next, and even a two-week stretch without rain can be pretty devastating if you’re cutting every 28 to 30 days. That’s production you never get back. On the other hand, too much rain can be equally damaging from a disease, wheel-track, and harvest timing perspective. Of course, there are factors such as soil pH, fertility, variety selection, establishment practices, disease control, and harvest timing and techniques that impact final yields. But these factors are often known and controlled by the top producers who still may not hit elite yield levels, though they are generally well above average. Research-proven best management practices are certainly where all producers need to start in their effort to attain higher yields. Finally, what about the question of “flatline” yield improvement? Yes, using any USDA metric alfalfa yields appear flat spanning over many years. It presents a picture that runs counter to common sense and observation. I’m really not entirely sure why. I, for one, know that today’s alfalfa varieties are much better than those of 30 years ago. I also know that when I’ve plotted university variety performance data over time, I often see significant improvement. Why are nonirrigated alfalfa yields often lower than their potential? Why are historical USDA yields flatlined? It’s complicated. That’s why. •

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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Mike Rankin

KEEP YOUR BALES DRY TO CONSERVE VALUE by Sara Bauder, Tracey Erickson, Kevin Shinners, and Matt Digman


HE next time you drop a round bale into the ring feeder, think about the investment that you’ve made in that bale. You’ll probably consider the costs of land, stand establishment, fertilizer, machinery, and handling. However, we often overlook “shrinkage” and quality losses that occur during outdoor storage. These losses occur for a simple reason — water has entered the bale and wasn’t able to leave through evaporation, resulting in spoilage. The deeper water penetrates the bale, and the longer that water stays in the bale, the greater the expected losses. Fortunately, round bales have characteristics that limit storage losses. The round shape of a dense, wellmade bale with a good outer thatch will help shed precipitation and limit spoilage inside the bale. Grasses with broad, flat leaves form a very good thatch, which help these bales shed water better than alfalfa bales. Modern balers are all capable of making great bales that can conserve value if good outdoor storage practices are followed.

Understanding the impact that bale storage practices have on water infiltration into bales was the subject of a 2019 study conducted in southeastern South Dakota. Specifically, the work considered alfalfa bales that were stored indoors or directly on the ground. The bales experienced 20 inches of precipitation from February 1 to July 31, but there was just a 0.06 inch of rain the week before bales were sampled. At removal, an electronic moisture probe was used to estimate the moisture at 50 locations throughout the bale. Data was collected at a depth of about 8 inches from both vertical faces of the bale. This data was used to generate spatial maps of moisture within the bale, and these have been included in this summary. The areas shaded light blue to dark blue indicate regions of higher moisture, where spoilage will be likely. Light-green regions represent moisture levels where spoilage may occur if the moisture cannot soon leave the bale by evaporation. Yellow or red represent areas where spoilage

is not likely to occur. These images represent a “snapshot” of moisture at one point in time. Bale moisture will change with time as storage and weather conditions change, either allowing moisture to leave the bale by evaporation or subjecting the bale to additional precipitation.

Indoor storage Although bales stored indoors can also be subject to losses if the environment isn’t managed, these bales generally conserve their value very well. Figure 1 represents moisture distribution within a bale stored in an open front hay shed. Although the bottom of these bales wicked moisture from the dirt floor, the vast majority (98%) of the sampling area in the bale was less than 20% moisture.

Bauder and Erickson are extension field specialists with South Dakota State University. Shinners is a professor of agricultural engineering with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Digman is an assistant professor and agricultural engineer with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Outside with no contact Indoor storage isn’t the only place that the bale environment can be managed. In Figure 2, spoilage might be relatively limited when bales were stored outside with no other bales directly in contact with each other. This might be similar to rowed bales with a large gap between the bales in the row and between the rows. Since air movement was not restricted by any neighboring bales, these bales could dry out after precipitation. Consequently, only about 15% of the sampled area was above 22% moisture.

Butted end-to-end It is common for producers to row bales with the bales butted tightly together. No matter how tightly these bales are pushed together, it is still possible for water to drain between the vertical faces of the bales. Additionally, this practice limits air movement and sunlight on these surfaces. Consequently, it is more difficult for these bales to dry after rainfall. In Figure 3, we see that about 66% of the sampling area of these bales was above 22% moisture. This result might show the value of leaving a space between bales, although in regions with high snowfall, this practice can lead to snowpack between bales. Note that the moisture is less on the west side of the bale because the higher afternoon temperature promotes drying of that side.

Butted side-to-side When rowing bales, the common recommendation is to leave a space of 3 to 4 feet between rows to allow the bottom quarter of the bales to dry. If this space is not left between the rows, water runs down into the “gutter” formed by the touching bales. Figure 4 shows that moisture can be very high where the bales touch. Note how the top left-hand quarters of both bales are relatively dry because the afternoon sun dries these areas. The sun cannot dry the bottom quarter of these bales, so more than 20% of the sampled area of the right-hand bale was greater than 30% moisture, raising concerns about spoilage in this area.

Mushroom stack

served hay. Figure 5 shows a common practice of stacking bales in a “mushroom” manner — the bottom bale placed on end and then a bale stacked on top in its normal orientation. The top bale was open to the atmosphere on all sides, so it was very dry throughout — about 90% was less than 22% moisture.

Unfortunately, the water shed from the top bale drained down to the bottom bale. Rain and snow can also collect on the exposed flat top surface. Since this bale was placed on end, water could easily flow down between its layers, and continued on following page >>>

Figure 1. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored in open front hay shed. Note the wicking of moisture in the bottom portion of the bale.

Figure 2. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored outdoors with no other bales around it. Note the lower moisture observed on the western portion of the bale.

Figure 3. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored outdoors in a row running north to south with bales butted tightly together. Note how limited air movement and sunlight on the bales in middle of the row affect moisture 8 inches from the vertical faces of the bale.

Producers often like to stack bales because it reduces storage space. Unless these bales are also covered, this practice may lead to poorly conMarch 2020 | hayandforage.com | 7

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in this case, over 45% of this bale was greater than 35% moisture. As a result, there was extensive spoilage and mold observed in these bottom bales when measurements were taken. Outdoor storage of bales placed on end negates all the storage advantages of making a round bale.

Pyramid stack

Figure 4. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored outdoors in a row running north to south with bales butted tightly together and no space between the rows. Note how water ran into the “gutter” formed by the touching bales, resulting in very high moisture where the bales touched.

Figure 5. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored outdoors with the bottom bale (right) stacked on end and the top bale (left) stacked on top in its normal orientation. Note that water shed from the top bale drained down to the bottom bale where water easily flowed between its layers.

Figure 6. Moisture distribution of round alfalfa bales stored outdoors in a pyramid fashion. Note that water shed from the upper bales flows down to the bales below and limited air movement and exposure to the sun makes it difficult for this water to be removed by evaporation.

Another common space-saving practice is to build a “pyramid” of bales. Figure 6 shows that although this storage method is very space efficient, water shed from the upper bales flows down to the bales below. Since the lower bales will have limited air movement and exposure to the sun, water drained from bales above cannot readily be evaporated. Over 35% of the sampled area was above 30% moisture on the two bales on the east side of the pyramid. In any storage scheme where bales are stacked, the lower bales will lose integrity as they spoil. These softer bales will then squat so that the bottom bales have more contact with the soil and the bales above, which often leads to even greater spoilage. A lot of time and treasure is invested in every round bale you make. Make an effort to conserve this feed resource by following recommendations in the accompanying text box. •

BEST ROUND BALE STORAGE PRACTICES •U se net wrap. It helps to promote a good leaf thatch and sheds water better than twine-wrapped bales. •P lace bales in rows that run northto-south so that the sun can dry both sides of the bales. •P lace bales on a gentle southfacing slope on a well-drained soil. lace bales where they are not •P shaded by buildings or trees. • L eave at least 3 feet between rows to allow the lower quarter of the bale to dry after precipitation. •P lacing bales on a rock pad helps water drain away from the bottom of the bale and reduces water wicking into the bale. • Cover bales if they are stacked in any manner to reduce storage space.

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NE of the fundamental principles of sound grazing management is matching your stocking rate to the carrying capacity of the land. A lot of farmers and ranchers sometimes think stocking rate and carrying capacity mean the same thing. They are, however, two very different concepts. Stocking rate is simply the number of animals or grazing pressure we are putting on the land. If we put 10 cows on 10 acres, then the stocking rate is one cow per acre. Because ruminant animals eat in proportion to their body weight, it is more important to think of stocking rate in terms of grazing pressure or feed demand rather than just head per acre.

Think animal units Ten cows, each weighing 1,500 pounds, deliver almost 50% more grazing pressure or feed demand than do 10 cows weighing 1,000 pounds each. Ten lactating cows may deliver anywhere from 130% to 180% more grazing pressure than the same 10 cows do when they are dry. Thinking about stocking rate just in terms of head per acre or acres per head is very dangerous because the grazing demand varies depending on body size and stage of production. My preferred way of expressing stocking rate is in standard animal unit (AU) equivalents. All an AU really refers to is a daily consumption of 26 pounds of dry forage. Our stocking rate can be expressed as how many AU will the land support for how many days or animal unit-days (AUD). Carrying capacity is the amount of grazing activity the land can support with the livestock performing at a profitable level and the health and productivity of the landscape being maintained or enhanced. We can express this demand

as how many AUD does this class of animal demand over a period of time. Some people mistakenly believe carrying capacity is determined entirely by location. For example, if you live in a given county of a particular state, the expected carrying capacity is 5 acres per AU. How do we then explain the ranch down the road that is running a cow on 3 acres or the other neighbor who is using 10 acres per cow? Environment sets the upper limit of potential carrying capacity. It is our management choices that determine how much of that potential we capture. The four factors of carrying capacity we can manage are forage production, seasonal utilization rate, daily forage intake by the grazing animal, and length of the grazing season. There are some obvious things we can do to change productivity such as irrigation, fertilization, tearing out the old pasture, and seeding the latest wonder grass. Equally obvious is that all of these practices cost money and may or may not be profitable to implement. There are more subtle things we can do to dramatically change pasture production. Consistently leaving 4 to 5 inches postgrazing residual compared to 2 to 3 inches can easily change forage production and pasture yield by 50%. It doesn’t cost you any money to make that choice, but it pays you back immensely. Grazing a particular range unit in the winter months rather than the active growing season may result in more AUDs per acre harvested. Grazing management itself can change the productivity of a pasture. In set-stocked grazing, the typical seasonal utilization rate is 30% to 40% of the annual forage production if we are maintaining acceptable animal performance without supplemental feeding.

Mike Rankin

by Jim Gerrish We have achieved 80% to 90% seasonal utilization with daily rotation in productive pasture environments. That is more than twice the carrying capacity of set-stocking in the same environment. We need to manage the daily forage intake to ensure our livestock are performing at the level we require for this to be a profitable business. Intake is largely determined by how selective we allow the animals to be in their grazing choices. For high-performing animals, we need to allow more selection opportunity. For lower performance expectations, we can ask them to graze more severely.

Maximize grazing days Since grazing standing forage is almost always lower cost than feeding machine-harvested forage, we generally want to stock at a level that allows us to graze for as many days as possible. We extend grazing days by rationing out our standing feed with time-controlled grazing. Because pasture does not grow at the same rate every day of the year, our feed supply is constantly changing. This means carrying capacity is not constant. Forage demand of our livestock also changes on an ongoing basis. For breeding females, feed demand is cyclic and highly predictable. Highest demand is at peak lactation and lowest demand is postweaning. Growing stock have greater demands as they grow. This means our effective stocking rate is also constantly changing. Keeping stocking rate in balance with carrying capacity requires ongoing monitoring of feed supply and livestock inventory. Correcting stocking rate mistakes through purchasing additional feed or selling animals on depressed markets can be major financial challenges. Proactive management is how we avoid those pitfalls. • For more information, visit www.americangrazinglands.com. JIM GERRISH The author is a rancher, author, speaker, and consultant with over 40 years of experience in grazing management research, outreach, and practice. He has lived and grazed livestock in hot, humid Missouri and cold, dry Idaho.

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Mike Rankin

by Larry Chase

Higher forage rations deserve a look


AIRY cattle and other ruminants are biologically designed to convert forages and other fibrous feeds into high-quality milk and meat for human consumption. The rumen microorganisms are the key to making this system work. Forages are the foundation upon which nutritionally sound economical and rumen healthy rations are built. The quality and quantity of forages fed to the dairy herd is directly related to milk production, purchased feed cost, whole-farm nutrient balance, and profitability. In 2017, we did a survey of feed industry professionals to obtain input on forage feeding in dairy herds. One question was how the amount of forage in the ration had changed in the last 10 to 15 years. They reported that 91% of the herds had raised forage feeding levels. Herds feeding over 60% of the total ration dry matter as forages represented 36% of the responses while herds feeding over 70% forage accounted for 11% of the herds. In 2019, we surveyed 79 herds with an

average energy-corrected milk production of 109 pounds of milk. Nineteen of these herds fed over 60% forage in the ration with one herd feeding 72% forage. Why have forage feeding levels increased over the years? One reason is the improvements made in forage quality and yield of the corn hybrids and forage varieties in the market. There have also been advances in forage production, management, and storage practices. The result is that farms are producing more tons of high-quality, more digestible forage per acre. This adds to the inventory of forage available to use in feeding programs. Advances in forage analysis, ration formulation programs, and feeding management practices provide better information to utilize forages in rations. All of these contribute to the enhanced forage levels in rations. The two primary reasons listed for not feeding higher levels of forage were forage quality not being good enough and inadequate forage inventory.

What are the benefits of feeding higher forage rations? One is the opportunity to lower purchased feed costs and improve income over feed cost. Other benefits from our survey include improved milk components, improved animal health, lower culling rate, and cows staying in the herd longer. What does your forage customer want to eat? The dairy cow is your forage customer. Cows are looking for a consistent supply of high-quality, high fiber digestibility, and palatable forage. If silage is fed, it needs to be well fermented. There also needs to be an adequate amount of “effective� physical fiber to support chewing, rumination, and rumen health. What do these rations look like? A recent example was from a farm with a high group producing an average of 115 pounds of milk per day. The

LARRY CHASE The author is an emeritus dairy nutrition professor in the Department of Animal Science at Cornell University.

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ration fed was 69% forage with 16.6% crude protein (CP), 31% neutral detergent fiber (NDF), 25% forage NDF, 27% starch, and 5.3% fat. Forages fed were brown midrib (BMR) corn silage and alfalfa silage in a 2-to-1 ratio on a dry matter basis. A second herd was producing 85 pounds of milk with a ration containing 83% forage that included a mix of corn silage (55% of forage), mixed legume-grass silage (37%), and oatlage 8%). There are other herds feeding a wide variety of forages in higher forage rations. Forage quality and consistency are more important than forage type. How do you successfully implement a higher forage feeding program for your herd? The key points involved in this process are: Mindset: Both the dairy producer and nutritionist need to buy in to this concept to make it work in a herd. The risk of failure is high without the proper mindset.

Consistent quality forages: As you feed more forage, less grain is being fed to adjust for changes in forage quality. Any variation in forage quality will have a larger impact on milk production in herds feeding higher forage rations. Forage inventory: It may take 15% to 30% more forage to feed the same number of cows. Make sure you have an adequate forage supply before starting to feed more forage. Do frequent inventory updates to assure the supply will last until the next harvest. Forage storage and allocation: Have the ability to store forages by quality so that you can allocate specific quality forages to the appropriate animal groups. Forage analysis: More frequent analysis is needed to keep the feeding program on target. Include NDF digestibility in the analysis package. Ration formulation: Rations need to be checked more frequently using forage analysis data to keep the program on target. Rations may need to be adjusted more often for changes in

forage dry matter. On-farm dry matter determinations should be used. Feeding management: Cows will need more time to eat and may need more bunk space. You might need to feed more frequently or push feed up more often to keep it fresh and available to the cow. Is your TMR mixer large enough? Higher forage rations are bulkier, and this may change the number of mixes made each day. Watch the cows: Keep tabs on dry matter intake, milk production, milk components, chewing and rumination, and manure consistency. This is especially important when making changes in the level of forage in the ration. Be patient. It takes cows time to adjust to higher forage rations. Feeding higher forage rations is an opportunity that should be considered in many dairy herds. These rations take advantage of the biology of the cow and have potential to improve profitability. Forage quality and consistency are the keys to making this work. Higher forage rations don’t work with variable and inconsistent forages. •

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by Matt Yost and Jonathan Holt


HERE are many methods used by growers to determine when and how much to irrigate forages. Some decide to turn the water on after handling a shovel-full of soil. Other growers use a commercial model created by the manufacturer of their pivot. Calendars, apps, spreadsheets, weather information, and “what the neighbor is doing” methods are also applied strategies. According to the most recent irrigation survey conducted as a part of USDA’s agricultural census in 2017, visually examining the crop was the most commonly used irrigation method by irrigators in the western United States. One large concern with this practice is that yield potential can already be lowered once the visual signs appear. Exploration of the different tools available and selecting the ones that work well with individual management plans can help growers ensure that irrigation is scheduled precisely. One tool that is becoming more commonly used is soil moisture sensors because of their ability to constantly monitor what is happening in the soil. Selecting a soil moisture monitoring system can be a daunting task given the diversity of options, applications, and the range in costs. There are four basic steps for selecting a sensing system. They are: 1. Select which type of soil moisture you would like to measure. 2. Determine needed components. 3. Determine the number of sensing

stations required. 4. Compare the complete cost of various soil monitoring systems, including the setup, maintenance, service, and replacement costs.

Potential or volume? Soil moisture sensors either measure water potential or a volumetric water content. Water potential is the amount of force exerted by the plant roots to get water out of the soil. As the soil dries out, the water potential decreases, and the plant has to exert more force to extract water from the soil. Water potential sensors are essentially a resistor in a gypsum block, or a resistor inside a granular matrix with a stainless steel enclosure around it (see photo). As the resistance in the sensor changes due to variations in soil moisture, the data logger converts the ohm measurements into water tension or water potential scales that can be used to determine if irrigation is necessary. Volumetric water content is the ratio of the volume of water compared to the entire volume of the soil, and it is reported as a percent. In ideal soil, about 50% of the volume would be solids and the other half would be pore spaces that act as reservoirs for water and air. Depending on the soil structure, the volumetric water content at field capacity (maximum amount of water the soil can hold) can be anywhere from 15% to 44%. On the other end of the scale is the permanent wilting point, where the plant can no longer pull water from the soil, and that varies from 8% to 23% depending on the soil structure. Two of the most common types of water content sensors include time

Mike Rankin

Soil moisture sensing for forage irrigation

domain reflectometry (TDR) and frequency domain reflectometry (FDR) sensors. TDR sensors offer a high level of accuracy, as they are not affected by salt, temperature, and only minimally by ground compaction. The most common TDR sensors have two or three metal prongs attached to a small plastic body (see photo). FDR sensors usually come in a tube referred to as a “capacitance probe.” These probes come from the manufacturer with multiple FDR sensors installed inside the tube to produce a self-contained unit that is capable of taking measurements at several depths of the root zone. We are not aware of any single sensor that can measure both water potential and water content, but both metrics are useful for guiding irrigation. Water potential is better suited for timing when to irrigate, while soil water content is better suited for adjusting how much irrigation to apply. Thus, a combination of both types of sensors might be ideal for adjusting timing and rate of irrigations.

Needed components There are four basic components of nearly all soil sensing systems: 1. Soil sensor — These come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. 2. Data logger — A device used to collect water potential or water content data. 3. Telemetry — Devices (usually a radio and modem) used to transmit data to a cell phone, tablet, or off-site computer. Telemetry devices can sometimes be integrated into the logger. Monthly or annual subscription fees are associated with telemetry. 4. Data display and analytics — The software application that is used to display the data and provide guidance on how and when to irrigate. Soil sensors are the essential part of any soil monitoring system. The other components are not always required. They depend on the manufacturer offerings and the customer’s preference. Each MATT YOST AND JONATHAN HOLT Yost (pictured) is an agroclimate extension specialist at Utah State University. Holt is a graduate research assistant.

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$13,300. This did not include the highly variable installation or maintenance costs, which could almost double the costs in some cases. These equipment prices may seem steep, but when considering them on a per-acre basis, they calculated to $5 to $11 per acre — near the cost of most tillage operations.

Worth the investment?

■ Sensors ■ Loggers ■ Telemetry

12,000 10,000 8,000 6,000 4,000 2,000

3 ns o TD



ns o TD



ns o se R TD


2 rs

1 rs

rs ns o se i ta


i ta

nc e

nc e



ns o



oc k




Ca p

After deciding measurements of interest and the components and number



Compare costs

Figure 1: Comparative cost of soil moisture sensing sytems

Ca p

This is an extremely important question that often needs to be answered on a field to field basis. The two keys to consider include: 1. How much variation exists in irrigation need across a given field? Collect and consider all the spatial information and experience you have, including soil texture, soil fertility, and yield. If the variability is high, consider more sensing stations. If low, one or just a few may do the trick. 2. What is the smallest unit of land you are willing to irrigate? If you do not plan to modify the irrigation rate or timing for different parts of a given field, then a single soil-sensing system is sufficient. If a single soil-sensing system is being used for a field, select the area of the field with the greatest water demand to ensure that the remainder of the field receives adequate irrigation.

yp su

How many systems?

of systems needed, the final step is to consider the cost of various options. In addition to equipment costs, be sure to include the cost to install (labor and equipment), maintain (extract and reinstall sensors, replacements, and so forth), and access data for the life of the sensing station. To illustrate potential costs of various systems, we evaluated six sensing systems currently on the market (see graph, brand names withheld). In our scenario, we selected two stations for 120 acres (a typical center pivot). Each station had between roughly one and six sensors depending on the type to represent the soil profile, one logger, and telemetry where available. The cost for the 120 acres over a 10-year period ranged from $5,600 to


type of sensor system has its own specifications such as the number of sensors a single logger can support or data access fees. If you are not willing to visit the soil sensors to manually collect the data each time it is needed, telemetry that enable remote access on a phone or computer may be well worth the investment. The worst mistake you can make with soil moisture sensing is to purchase equipment and never use it to modify your irrigation.

WATER CONTENT — time domain reflectometry (TDR) sensor.

Approximate cost for 2 stations on 120 acres over 10 years ($)

WATER POTENTIAL — gypsum block sensor.

Based on our scenarios, growers would need to realize at least $5 per acre per year in savings to pay for soil moisture sensing. In current markets, that would require about 0.10 tons of additional alfalfa per acre per year or 0.5 tons of additional corn silage through improved irrigation. Unfortunately, few studies have documented the potential yield gains from soil moisture monitoring. Early results from a Utah State University study on 15 cuts of alfalfa at 10 farms in south central Utah during 2019 showed inconsistent and minimal yield gains when soil moisture monitoring was used compared to the grower’s conventional irrigation management. However, soil moisture monitoring did save water without reducing yield, suggesting it is a viable option for stretching limited water supplies. Soil moisture sensing can be a great tool for refining and improving irrigation management of forages. Utilizing the information provided here will help you determine which applications might be right for you. If the numbers are favorable and water supplies are tight, start small with a few systems on a few fields to ensure the benefits outweigh the costs before expanding to the whole farm. •

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Your Checkoff Dollars At Work

Alfalfa publication debuts in D.C. 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.

REFRESHED, 32-page publication, Alfalfa, Wildlife & the Environment, was put into the hands of federal policymakers during the National Alfalfa & Forage Alliance’s (NAFA) D.C. Fly-In event last month. The booklet, recently revised using Alfalfa Checkoff funds, reels off the many environmental and cropping system benefits to growing the perennial. “It’s a good summary of the valuation of alfalfa,” said Craig Sheaffer, a University of Minnesota forage agronomist and one of the publication’s authors. “Alfalfa CRAIG SHEAFFER is the ideal crop to Minnesota $38,450 provide economic return as well as environmental benefits and ecosystem services, and we need to publicize this more.” “NAFA uses the publication extensively during the D.C. Fly-In to help educate congressional offices and agencies about the environmental benefits of alfalfa, which is the third most valuable field crop in the nation,” pointed out NAFA President Beth Nelson. “Alfalfa is the ultimate regenerative crop, increasing biodiversity, enriching soils, improving watersheds, and enhancing ecosystems. We’re striving to get alfalfa its rightful place on the agricultural landscape — but policymakers and public research entities must first be educated about alfalfa’s economic and environmental attributes,” she added.

The ultimate cover crop Sheaffer plans to hand out the booklet to growers, extension workers, and Minnesota legislators to help explain how alfalfa can and should be used in cropping systems – and why it is the ultimate cover crop. “The winter-annual cover-crop

system we have now is a lot of rye or turnips or a mixture of crops with no economic return,” Sheaffer said. “Those crops do have the potential to reduce erosion and recycle nutrients, but there is no cash flow associated with them. In the case of alfalfa, you can get all of those ecosystem values as well as getting an economic return. Why isn’t alfalfa a predominate cover crop?” The forage agronomist will also use the publication in water-quality discussions with state policymakers. “Alfalfa is not widely discussed; no perennial forage crop is,” he noted. The booklet, first published in 2001, was authored primarily by California specialists with more of a Western focus. NAFA requested “a more broad, nationwide publication with an increased emphasis on alfalfa research,” Nelson said. A section on how alfalfa improves soil health was greatly expanded, Sheaffer explained. “We talk about soil carbon and show rooting comparisons. We also talk about insects — a lot of people are concerned about bees and honey, and we had a chapter on how pollinators benefit from alfalfa. Then we have the wildlife part, which was a large part of the old publication, and talk about how to make alfalfa systems more wildlife friendly. “At the very end, we have a chapter on ecosystem services. It combines information from previous chapters, looking at nitrogen fixation, soil stabilization, nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and how alfalfa compares to annual cropping systems and is superior at providing ecosystem services,” he said. Sheaffer enjoyed trying to determine alfalfa’s full value but found it a rather daunting task. “Quantifying alfalfa’s value just to soil health is very difficult,” he said. “And it is hard to find good data comparing alfalfa to other crops. We have some data here (in the booklet), and I wish we had more. It’s a

scenario for more potential research. “People who grow alfalfa and use it in rotations see its value. But then you try to find detailed numbers, and it’s not easy. But I think our publication has a good summary of benefits,” he added.

Spread the word Sheaffer hopes farmers and industry people can get the publication to their state and federal legislators. He also believes it can be a good reminder to dairy farmers evaluating their herds’ forage diets. “We know there is a decrease in alfalfa acreage in part because there are fewer dairies, but also because of the competition with

Project results The visually appealing publication reflects the state of current production practices and scientific research, with new and reorganized text, updated terminology, and greater emphasis on how alfalfa is grown and used today. The package includes a two-page informational handout and a narrated slide presentation summarizing key alfalfa information.

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corn silage. If you are a dairy producer, you could look at this and say: ‘Maybe I shouldn’t replace so much of my alfalfa to corn silage because of alfalfa’s value.’ Maybe it will be a good reminder to them of what they already know,� Sheaffer said. Alfalfa, Wildlife & the Environment is an easy read and well-organized. The first several chapters explain what the crop is, what it brings to livestock diets,

how it grows and improves soil health, and how it provides beneficial insects food and cover. Additional chapters tell how alfalfa and wildlife can exist together and how the crop contributes to the entire cropping system. The final chapter pulls together how the crop contributes to the environment as well as our own well-being. Vibrant photos and easy-to-read graphics are included within the

publication. Besides Sheaffer, co-authors are Adria Fernandez, University of Minnesota Agronomist; Mitchell Hunter, American Farmland Trust Research Director; Nicole Taatges, University of California Cropping System Specialist; and Dan Putnam, University of California Alfalfa & Forage Extension Specialist. For copies of the publication, visit www.alfalfa.org/publications.php. •

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by Mike Rankin


a combine, two heads, a six-row no-till planter, a disk, a field cultivator, and a tractor. In the mid-1980s, there was a farm for sale almost every day, and stuff was cheap. It was a bad time for agriculture but a good time to get into business,” he said. Lundy’s father quit farming in 1986, giving the place back to FHA as so many did during that time period. His uncle rented the home farm from FHA for a couple of years, then, in 1988, Lundy bought it.

Got the hay bug “My uncle had always done some small square bales with an old New Holland baler and an equally old Farmhand accumulator,” Lundy said. “When I rented my great uncle’s farm in 1986, he had 40

All photos Mike Rankin

HE view in my rearview mirror mimicked the Dust Bowl as the tires kicked up loose dirt on one of Iowa’s signature gravel roads. It was a good haymaking day. As much as the state is known for its grid of gravel roads that more or less transform Iowa into a large checkerboard, the Hawkeye State is also the epicenter of corn and soybean country. Like those who farm around him, Dennis Lundy grows some corn and soybeans near Fontanelle, Iowa, but he admits to not necessarily enjoying those crop enterprises. Unlike his neighbors, Lundy is also a big-time haymaker in this mecca of grain combines.

His story has always been one of taking the road less traveled, gravel or not. Growing up on a diverse crop and livestock farm, Lundy was one of the unlucky ones who wanted to farm but found himself graduating from college in 1984. Those were dark days for agriculture. “Most of my classmates either chose or were told not to come back to the farm,” Lundy remembered. Undeterred, Lundy bucked the trend and returned to the home farm to work with his father. He rented 50 acres from a neighbor and used his dad’s equipment to plant and harvest a crop. “I lost money; 1984 was a dry year,” he said. In 1985, Lundy’s neighbor quit farming and rented him all of his land. “I got a $25,000 Farmers Home Administration (FHA) loan and bought

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acres of good alfalfa, and my uncle suggested I should square bale it and sell the hay. It was a horrible experience. Nothing worked, but I still kind of liked it because it was something different. I’ve always been the type to zig when everyone else was zagging,” he added. Lundy started seeding some of his own farm down to alfalfa. In 1988, an excessive drought year, Lundy bought some additional hay equipment in partnership with his cousin and uncle, including a more reliable small square baler and a New Holland pull-type bale wagon. They rented 240 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land that was released early that dry year. It was a new seeding of alfalfa with a little grass. “That was my first dive into big-time haymaking, but we were still baling small squares,” Lundy explained. “We stacked the bales on the edge of the field and didn’t even tarp it because it never rained that year. Then, we sold it right from the stacks.” For Lundy, making hay off that CRP land changed the course of his farming operation for years to come. “That experience really gave me the hay bug,” Lundy said. “I seeded more of my own farm down to alfalfa and bought my own small square baler and a self-propelled New Holland bale wagon. By 1993, we were making 350 acres of small squares. That was a wet year, and I don’t think we made one good bale of hay the entire summer. I decided that year I was going to switch to big squares, and if the banker didn’t go with me, then I was going to quit making hay.” Fortunately, that didn’t happen. “What I really like about hay is that you can be rewarded for the job you do,” Lundy reflected. “With corn and soybeans, the price being offered is the same for everyone.” At his peak, Lundy farmed 1,800 to 1,900 acres of hay. He stayed at that level for quite a few years.

All photos Mike Rankin

Two bad years Lundy’s haymaking enterprise had become a fine-tuned, profitable machine. Then, 2008 rolled around. It was an extremely wet year and making dairy-quality dry hay was a real challenge. “I figured we couldn’t have two years in a row like that, but I was wrong . . . 2009 was the same story,” Lundy said. “Before 2008, we could almost always market 70% of our hay as dairy hay

If late-summer seedings fail, alfalfa is sometimes seeded into winter wheat stands during the spring.

above 150 relative forage quality (RFQ). In 2008 and 2009, it was more like 30%. Up until that time, I was only a hay farmer, but we decided to cut back our hay acres to 900, and we started growing some grain crops. “Even after 2009 we were just plugging along and struggled to make dairy-quality hay, except for a dry 2012 when it was all Premium or Supreme quality. Overall, we weren’t losing money, but we also weren’t gaining,” he added. Something had to change, and Lundy took another zig.

Baleage enters the picture “We started having trouble meeting the demands of our dairy customers,” Lundy said. “One of them suggested that we look into chopping, storing the haylage in bags, and then hauling it to them as they needed it. That route would have involved a whole new line of equipment, so I started to consider baleage.” Five years ago, Lundy started the conversion to baleage so he could make wetter hay if weather conditions dictated such a need. To start, he bought a wrapper and an older baler with a precutter, which his existing balers didn’t have. “We began a 30-day experiment with one of our dairy customers,” Lundy explained. “The first year was a disaster from the standpoint of things going wrong. The baler was constantly plugging with wetter hay, and I lost a good employee at year’s end because of all the frustrations. However, we did put up some really nice baleage that first

year, and the dairy had great success with it,” he added.

Convinced of in-line wrapping Lundy uses an in-line wrapper for his large square bales. “I did a lot of research on that decision,” said the thoughtful Iowa haymaker whose wife is an elementary school principal. “I talked to a couple of guys who told me that individual bale wrapping is the only way to go. Then I talked to a couple of dairy farmers in Wisconsin who said in-line wrapping works fine if the rows are made as long as possible in a north-south orientation.” The dairies that Lundy supplies baleage to feed it fast enough that he just takes the plastic off and loads the bales the same as is done for dry bales. They want the baleage at 55% to 65% moisture. Lundy started making baleage with a 4x4 baler that he bought on an online auction “dirt cheap,” but he has since reverted back to 3x4 balers. “I really liked the 4x4 bales for what we were doing, but it was tough to get a really dense bale with wet hay,” he explained. Lundy doesn’t use any inoculant on his baleage that gets wrapped in nine layers of plastic. The 3x4 bales are wrapped and stored edge-to-edge to gain efficiency with the plastic. “We wrap everything right away. If wrapping gets four hours behind the baler, I start getting nervous. Once we start baling, we don’t quit wrapping.” Both dry hay and baleage are priced continued on following page >>> March 2020 | hayandforage.com | 17

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Baleage has better enabled Dennis Lundy to meet the forage quality demands of his dairy customers. Bales are wrapped edge-to-edge with an in-line wrapper and stored in long rows.

“What I really like about hay is that you can be rewarded for the job you do,” Lundy said.

based on RFQ. Lundy pulls samples on his baleage and dry hay as it’s going into the hay barn or before it is wrapped. “Everything is tested,” Lundy said. “I used to pull the baleage samples after fermentation, but I hated putting holes in the plastic and then retaping. Plus, it was a lot of work,” he added.

out the alfalfa,” he added. When a late summer-seeded stand is lost, Lundy just reverts to another zig. Two years ago, he tried something new by spring seeding alfalfa into a stand of winter wheat. This past year, he did the same thing on even more acres after some failed late-summer seedings. “It seems to work pretty good,” Lundy said. “You can’t do it into rye; it’s too competitive, and you have to use short-stature wheat varieties.” Commenting on his alfalfa variety selection process, Lundy noted that the last eight years he has planted nothing but Dairyland Seeds’ hybrid alfalfa. “I actually like the fact that the seed isn’t coated, and I have some customers who can’t feed any GMOs, so I just don’t use any Roundup Ready varieties. I also want a break from glyphosate use because I do plant Roundup Ready soybeans and corn.” Lundy is starting to get interest from some of his dairy customers to include some grass in his seeding mixture. That’s something he’s currently researching. But truth be told, this Iowan is always evaluating every phase of his operation. “Weather is definitely our biggest challenge, but we can’t do much about that,” he said. “You have to adapt and change to survive, and for us, baleage has been a renaissance.” No doubt, there will be more zigs in Lundy’s future. •

Four-crop rotation Currently, Lundy farms 1,200 acres of alfalfa and another 1,200 acres of row crops and small grains. He bales and sells the straw from the small grains, which may be either winter wheat or winter rye. A typical crop rotation is corn-soybean-small grain-alfalfa. The alfalfa is usually seeded in the late summer after the winter cereal harvest and are kept for three production years. Lundy currently uses two mowerconditioners, three hydraulic basket rakes, and two 3x4 Massey Ferguson balers with precutters to harvest his hay. He generally gets five cuttings of alfalfa per year with one taken in the fall (September or October). Lundy has always no-tilled his corn and soybeans, but for the last 10 years he has been no-tilling all of his crop acres, including alfalfa. He uses a John Deere 1990 air seeder. “We’ve always got the ground covered,” Lundy said. “We even seed wheat or rye after corn harvest as a cover crop and then spray it out once the soybeans are up.”

Lundy pulls forage samples on every lot of hay or baleage before it is put into the barn or wrapped.

Prefers summer seedings If given a choice, Lundy prefers seeding his alfalfa during late summer (mid-August). By doing so, he avoids the low seeding-year production that comes with a spring-seeded crop. “Late summer alfalfa seedings aren’t fool proof,” he admits. “I’ve lost stands because it was too dry, and I’ve lost stands because it was too wet. When seeding in the late summer after wheat, we usually have to spray for volunteer wheat in the fall. If you don’t, it will kill

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by Jason Banta Near infrared reflectance spectroscopy is cheaper and much quicker than wet chemistry, but it can’t be used on all samples. For example, NIR does not work well for ash or mineral analysis. In some situations, NIR can be used to analyze most feed components and a wet chemistry test can be added to analyze ash or specific minerals.

Not all hay tests are the same S SPRING begins, it is a good time to look back and evaluate how the winter-feeding program went. Did the cows come through the winter in good condition or were they thinner than desired? Not having a good hay test to use when making winter supplementation and feeding decisions can easily lead to over or underfeeding cows. The best time to test hay will depend on the situation. If hay is being purchased, then ideally it should be tested prior to purchase. Sellers are often more willing to let someone test hay before purchase if they will pay for the test and share the results with the producer, regardless if they buy the hay or not. If the hay is raised and will be used on the operation, I like to wait until the fall to test the hay, but it can be sampled earlier if desired. Whenever possible, it is best to wait a few weeks after baling to test hay; this allows it to finish curing and accounts for any changes that might occur during storage. If hay is put up too wet and heating occurs, then protein availability can be reduced because of Maillard reactions. Maillard reactions form indigestible complexes between amino acids and carbohydrates. Although it is a simple test, many labs do not offer this analysis, which is found on forage test reports as heat-damaged protein or acid detergent insoluble crude protein (ADICP).

Find a good lab In order to get a useful hay test, it is important to select a reputable, certified testing lab and also request the

Mike Rankin

Make sure it’s summative

right tests for the forage being analyzed. Unfortunately, all testing labs are not the same and results can vary considerably between labs depending on the techniques being used and what quality control procedures are in place. Testing procedures can be divided into two main types: wet chemistry or near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIR). When done correctly and in the appropriate situation, both methods can work well, but they also have their strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, there are times when both types of tests will be used on the same sample. Wet chemistry is used to describe tests that measure the chemical fraction directly through digestion, combustion, and other techniques. For example, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) is measured by weighing a set amount of forage, putting it in a neutral detergent solution at a certain temperature for a given amount of time, and then washing the sample. After washing, the remaining sample is dried and weighed to determine the NDF content. Wet chemistry procedures will work on all samples, but they cost more and take more time to run. In simple terms, a sample analyzed using NIR is exposed to infrared light and the chemical bonds in the sample cause a specific spectra of light to be absorbed or reflected. These spectra of light can then be compared to a calibration dataset to determine the concentration of a specific feed component like crude protein or NDF. Only analyze samples with NIR when the lab has a good reference dataset similar to the sample being analyzed.

Total digestible nutrients (TDN) is a common term used to describe the energy content of hay. In addition to TDN, some reports will also list other terms (for example, digestible energy [DE] or net energy of maintenance, growth, or lactation [NEm, NEg, and Nel]) to describe the energy content of hay, but it is important to realize that these terms are derived from TDN. Unfortunately, TDN can’t be measured directly so it has to be estimated from other feed components. There can be considerable variation in the equations labs use to estimate TDN, which can result in significantly different TDN values from lab to lab. It is best to send samples to labs that use summative equations. Summative equations can account for differences in NDF digestibility and ash content, which can have huge impacts on TDN values. Ash content includes the minerals in the forage and any soil contamination. Before sending a sample in for analysis, it is always a good idea to visit with a nutritionist or whomever will help make feeding recommendations to see what lab(s) they recommend and what tests are most appropriate for the sample being analyzed. After hay tests have been paid for, it can be very frustrating to find out that the results are not helpful in making decisions because the appropriate tests were not used or the nutrition consultant does not have confidence in the selected lab. As a general rule, hay should at minimum be analyzed for crude protein, ADICP, NDF, NDF digestibility, crude fat, and ash. Minerals, nitrates, and other analyses can be added if needed. • JASON BANTA The author is a beef cattle specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension based in Overton, Texas.

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waters. Some may be washed away with soil particles through erosion, and some may be incorporated by soil microorganisms into newly forming organic matter. These aren’t even all the possibilities.

Soil carbon impacts plant protein content by Alan Franzluebbers


OTH in research trials and on the farm, the response to nitrogen fertilizer application can be quite variable. We’ve all seen situations where, other than maybe a greener plant color, applying nitrogen had little impact on forage growth and yield. Conversely, we’ve noted situations when applying nitrogen had a huge impact on pasture productivity. Nitrogen is the essential element of protein in plant and animal tissues. Protein is needed in a variety of molecules for organisms to function effectively, such as enzymes and DNA. In all plants, nitrogen is the most important element in the formation and function of chlorophyll, the essential compound necessary for photosynthesis. Without carbon dioxide fixation from the atmosphere via chlorophyll, animals would not exist, and we would have no food from either plants or animals.

Environmental trade-off So, maybe we should just apply more than enough nitrogen on our forages, and there would be no such limitation for this important nutrient. That could work, but nitrogen is expensive and many of our water quality issues exist because there has been too much nitrogen leaking into groundwater or running off into surface waters and

causing environmental disasters. We shouldn’t poison ourselves just to produce food to eat, should we? The dilemma with nitrogen is determining how much to apply to be sufficient without causing environmental and economic losses. Of course, there are many other important questions, too — When is the best time to apply nitrogen to get the best plant utilization and least loss to the environment? What form of nitrogen is the most cost effective and will give us the best efficiency of plant uptake? Where in the canopy or soil profile should the nitrogen be applied to avoid losses from leaching, volatilization, and denitrification? If your hay or forage crop had 2% nitrogen (N) content at harvest, and you intend to harvest 5 tons per acre each year, then it might make sense to apply at least 200 pounds per acre (10,000 pounds x 2% = 200 pounds). But, if only about 50% of the nitrogen you apply is actually taken up and utilized by the crop, perhaps 400 pounds of N per acre is what’s needed annually. Where does that other 50% of the nitrogen go? Some is lost through ammonia volatilization into the atmosphere. Some may be denitrified to nitrous oxide gas and lost into the atmosphere. Some may be leached below the root zone as nitrate. Some may be washed from the soil surface into nearby lands or surface

Alan Franzluebbers

A rich source of nitrogen So what does soil carbon have to do with protein in your grass? It’s a matter of soil organic matter and soil microorganisms. Soil organic matter is mostly composed of carbon; in fact, 58% of soil organic matter is carbon. Soil microorganisms are those smallest critters in the soil that require a microscope to see — bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes. Of course, there are many visible organisms in soil, too. Soil organic matter in agricultural fields also contains 4% to 6% nitrogen. Soil organic nitrogen is tightly bound and must be mineralized by soil microorganisms to ammonium and nitrate, the two inorganic forms of nitrogen readily taken up by plants. If a soil had 2% soil organic matter, then there might be 800 to 1,200 pounds of N per acre in that soil. If a soil had 5% soil organic matter, then there might be 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of N per acre. That’s a lot of nitrogen in the top 4 inches of soil, and there might be another equal amount in the next 20 inches of soil. We can use some of that nitrogen in the soil, but knowing how much becomes available during a growing season has been difficult to predict. Scientists studied that question more intensively before the industrial revolution that led to the development of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. Once ammonium nitrate and urea became readily available, the emphasis on understanding nitrogen mineralization from organic matter diminished greatly. There’s now a renewed interest in understanding nitrogen mineralization with the convergence of rising nitrogen fertilizer costs, water quality cleanup efforts, and interest in soil

ALAN FRANZLUEBBERS The author is a research ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Raleigh, N.C.

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health. This is where understanding carbon in soil connects to the protein in your grass. In a series of on-farm tall fescue stockpile trials throughout North Carolina and surrounding states, the amount of nitrogen derived from mineralization of soil organic matter was compared with the amount of nitrogen supplied by urea fertilizer. Soil samples were collected at the beginning of the stockpile period (early September) and analyzed for soil nitrogen mineralization and soil-test biological activity. Tall fescue forage was allowed to grow unimpeded for about four months into December or January, when forage growth and nutritive value were determined. Beef cows were then turned out onto these pastures as typical for this management approach. During the experimental period, nitrogen was applied at 0, 40, 80, and 120 pounds of N per acre, and these treatments were replicated four times for a total of 16 plots at each of the 37 trials conducted in the fall of 2018. Experimental results were also available from 55 trials conducted in 2015 and 2016 using a similar approach. Averaged across all trials, forage yield improved with higher rates of nitrogen fertilizer applied. This would not be unusual, as many current recommendations for fall stockpile forages call for 50 to 100 units of nitrogen per acre. However, what was unique about this study was that only 26 of the 92 trials had sufficient yield response to cover the cost of added nitrogen. Sixty-six trials (72%) didn’t need any more nitrogen than what was already present in soil to optimize production. The amount of residual inorganic nitrogen in the surface 4 inches of soil was low, so the most reasonable source of available nitrogen was from mineralization of organic matter. Why did some fields respond to fertilizer nitrogen and not others? It was not because of the amount of residual inorganic nitrogen in the surface 4 inches of soil because there were no differences in soil ammonium and nitrate among responsive and nonresponsive fields. The difference was due to the amount of nitrogen mineralization from soil organic matter. Soil nitrogen mineralization potential under ideal conditions in the laboratory averaged 131 pounds of N per acre in those trials that did not respond at all to fertilizer nitrogen. In those trials that required the most nitrogen fertilizer to optimize yield, soil nitrogen mineralization was significantly lower at 93 pounds of N per acre. Trials with a fertilizer requirement of 40 pounds of N per acre or less to optimize yield had an intermediate level of soil N mineralization of 119 pounds of N per acre.

A more practical test These results were surprising to many farmer collaborators that saw them for the first time. However, they make sense if we accept that soil health can be changed by forage and grazing management choices on farms. Soils with greater nitrogen mineralization potential have greater ability to supply plants with available nitrogen. Unfortunately, to be able to determine soil nitrogen mineralization potential in the lab requires at least two months of processing time, and it would reasonably cost about $40 per sample just for this one analysis. Fortunately, the practical aspect of soil testing was considered at the onset of the research project. A simple, rapid, and

. . . that can be estimated with soil-test biological activity

more economical estimation of soil biological activity was also determined along with the estimation of soil nitrogen mineralization potential. We evaluated soil-test biological activity, which requires only about a week from sampling to sending the soil test report and might only cost about $5 to $10 per sample in a research setting. Why soil-test biological activity can even be considered a suitable alternative is because there is a strong association between soil nitrogen mineralization and soil-test biological activity. This association was observed in this study (see Figure 1) as well as others. The impact of this research is that hay and forage growers can now use a soil test to determine the biological health of their soils and make reasonable, field-specific determinations of how much fertilizer nitrogen might be needed to optimize yield. This soil test would help growers fine-tune profit potential in the short term, maximize the efficiency of invested fertilizer dollars, and contribute to the health of local watersheds. Optimizing fertilizer nitrogen also reduces the carbon footprint of the farming operation by sequestering carbon in soil organic matter. If you’d like to confirm the value of this approach on your farm, contact a soil-testing laboratory in your area to see if they offer soil biological testing. It could be in your best economic and ecological interests! •

Figure 1: Relationship between nitrogen mineralization and soil-test biological activity 300

Soil Nitrogen Mineralization (lb N/acre) 0-24 d

Optimum nitrogen rates differed



0 0





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by John Goeser



OUR favorite tractor’s engine control module (ECM) continuously monitors signals from many sensors to keep the tractor running smoothly. The ECM may receive a single fault code from a sensor; however, it is programmed not to alert the operator unless numerous sensor fault codes are detected over a short time period. This is a statistical approach, recognizing that a single signal could be an outlier and not necessarily indicative of problems. Whenever several fault codes are sensed in a short time, the ECM recognizes that an issue should be addressed, and the check engine light comes on to alert the operator. Forage sampling should be thought of in the same way. Think of a single sample analysis as one “signal.” And research from the past 10 years has shown us that a single sample should not be assumed to represent the feed’s actual value. Rather, sample result trends in a meaningful time period (real time) should drive decisions.

The term “variation” is used regularly in evaluation, but the statistical definition isn’t often understood. Admittedly, I had even lost grasp on how variance is calculated and defined, despite being trained in statistics through graduate school. Variance is a statistical measure that captures the likely distance a sample result will be from the real value (the average). It captures the spread of data around the population average and is often represented by a bell curve.

An inconsistent feed The population average, as defined here, is a lot of hay or silage fed within a few days or a week. The sampling variance, in real time, is more than many people might recognize, and this interferes with forage quality interpretation for individual samples. Corn silage, for example, is commonly thought of as a more consistent feed than hay or haylage. This is often true over a year, with many sample results in hand over that period. But in my

experience, for a single sample taken in real time, corn silage is actually less consistent than hay or haylage due to greater sampling variance. This inconsistent reality, recognized via separate subsamples of the same sample, is due to corn silage being an inherently heterogeneous feed with starch in the grain and fiber in the stover. Here, consistency has nothing to do with the field conditions or harvest timing. Forage quality results are what drive feed pricing or ration changes, but keep in mind that a single sample’s result represents just one estimate of your forage quality the day it’s sampled. Think of this like going to the rifle range with your buddies, shooting only once, and having your buddies judge you on that single shot’s outcome. In this analogy, we quickly recognize that the single shot doesn’t necessarily represent our marksmanship skills. In taking one sample, we’re taking just one shot at measuring forage quality. In this case, the meaningful quality changes due to crop, field, or hybrid, for example, are inextricably lumped together with sampling variance.

Take multiple samples Bill Weiss and Normand St-Pierre at The Ohio State University studied feed sampling and nutritional variances in detail beginning around 2011. The researchers recognized that sampling errors are substantial relative to real forage quality changes — so much so that the dairy scientists commented that single samples are not likely reliable due to sampling variance. However, sampling errors can be overcome by taking duplicates or by sampling more frequently. Stated differently, while one sample often doesn’t represent the forage’s true value, the average of two or three in a meaningful time period will always more realistically represent a feed’s actual value. The industry has not fully grasped or put these recommendations into JOHN GOESER 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.

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Taking only one forage sample is like judging your marksmanship skills from a single shot. practice. All too often, a single sample result continues to be interpreted as the decided truth. When forage quality results deviate from expectations, or differ between broker and client, the debate and questions come flying. Sampling deviations for crude protein, starch, or fiber content can easily be one or two percentage units, even in a controlled laboratory setting. If one or two units for protein and fiber (equivalent to five to 10 units of relative forage quality) are meaningful to your business, then consider altering your sampling program. Greater sampling frequency or taking two samples can help your nutritionist more powerfully determine forage

value. Submitting and averaging two or more samples in a meaningful time period lessens the sampling variance impact and helps you to understand true forage quality. Statistically speaking, the resulting outcome from averaging several samples is more powerful. The economics associated with more powerful data will be better understood in years to come.

Economic benefits In light of sampling variance, several farms I’ve worked with have stepped up their sampling frequency and protocols to uncover meaningful changes in forage quality that had previously gone unrecognized. Changes happen even

within a given week. During this experience, we have retaught ourselves basic statistics, to recognize that two and three sample averages provide better information. Then, with more powerful information in hand, this drives better decisions. For example, rather than buffering the diet to handle changes (for example, extra protein or energy to account for forage changes), one can more confidently balance the diet for essential nutrients and benefit the farm’s bottom line. In full transparency, a majority of my time is spent working for a feed analysis laboratory. However, the collective aim here is to help your business make better decisions, with more power, and geared toward economic prosperity. Recognizing and accounting for sampling variance, through improved sampling programs, will empower you and your nutritionist to make more precise and accurate decisions. There may be substantial margin opportunities per hundredweight for your business on the horizon. •

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Researchers are still trying to find answers as to why alfalfa injury occurs when glyphosate is applied and then followed by a spring frost event.

A MYSTERY & REALITY by Chet Loveland


ERBICIDE-TOLERANT crops have been widely adopted across production agriculture. Over 90% of canola, sugar beet, soybean, cotton, and corn crops in the U.S. are herbicide tolerant. Most prominent among herbicide-tolerant crops are glyphosate-resistant (GR) varieties and hybrids. GR alfalfa has also become widely used in recent years, although adopted at a slower pace than other crops due to its perennial nature. Despite the higher seed cost of GR alfalfa, the majority of users (72%) report that they would plant it again. Growers have embraced the technology because it provides simple, effective weed control. Alternative conventional herbicides often limit growers to specific application timings and, even when a proper application is made, the crop may still be subject to some degree of

injury and/or stand loss. As time has allowed us to observe GR alfalfa use across the country, many of its initial selling points have held true. However, an important exception to the rule occurred when crop injury was observed following a glyphosate application in California in the spring of 2014. Since then, apparent glyphosate injury has been documented in the intermountain regions of California, Oregon, and Utah. This raised the question: Is GR alfalfa truly immune to glyphosate applications, or does crop injury result just as it does with conventional herbicides?

A tie to spring frosts More than 30 studies have been conducted to determine the source of this injury and identify ways to help growers mitigate their risk of crop injury and yield loss. As these studies were compared to one another, a pattern of conditions emerged for which injury is

contingent upon. Most importantly, injury only occurred in environments prone to spring frosts. For injury to occur, both a glyphosate application and a frost event were needed to have taken place within a similar time frame. Thus, when the term glyphosate injury is used, this does not imply glyphosate as the source of injury; the mechanism behind this injury is still not fully understood. Rather, the term is used to distinguish this injury from other forms of injury. Glyphosate injury is sporadic, affecting plant stems at random instead of

CHET LOVELAND The author is a graduate research assistant at Utah State University in Logan.

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4 inches, wait to make an application. 2. Apply glyphosate in the early spring. Alfalfa treated at heights 4 inches and shorter demonstrated reduced injury symptoms and small to no yield reductions. Beyond simply reducing the threat of injury, early spring applications also allow for improved control of winter annuals at lower application rates. There are many good reasons to take care of weeds before you can see them from the comfort of your cab. 3. Use the lowest recommended rate. The degree of crop injury was directly correlated with the glyphosate application rate. Making herbicide applications at low herbicide rates will reduce the risk of injury to the crop. Lower rates also enable applicators to cover more acres. In the case of the treatments used in these studies, twice as many acres could be covered using the low rate as with the high rate.

Moving forward Although effective mitigation practices have been established, the mechanism behind the injury remains elusive. Is this injury, in fact, a form of frost injury that has been intensified through glyphosate application? Or perhaps is the effectiveness of the glyphosate-resistant trait diminished by frost events? A seemingly endless number of biological and ecological factors may play into this injury as well, and any one of them could be the key to better understanding and preventing this injury. Moving forward, researchers will seek to find answers to these and other questions. •

Mitigation strategies So, what can be done to prevent or reduce the impact of glyphosate injury? 1. Check the weather. While we do not fully understand the mechanism behind this injury, we know frost is a necessary condition for the injury to occur. If the forecast indicates an imminent frost, and your crop is taller than

Figure 1: Effect of spring glyphosate applications on alfalfa (Utah, 2017 to 2019) ■ No glyphosate ■ Low glyphosate rate ■ High glyphosate rate


Yield (% of the control)

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In our Utah trials that have been conducted during the past three years, 10 treatments were imposed. The control was an untreated check, regarded as the standard for yield in a crop with no injury. The second treatment was a mix of metribuzin and paraquat. This was applied at dormancy as a comparison for typical conventional herbicide injury and is referred to as the conventional control. The remaining eight treatments received applications of glyphosate at two different rates and four plant growth stages. The two rates were a low and a high rate (Roundup PowerMAX at 22 ounces [oz.] per acre or 44 oz. per acre). The applications were timed at 2-inch intervals, occurring at 2, 4, 6, and 8 inches tall. Alfalfa that received a glyphosate application at 4 inches or greater generally exhibited more injury symptoms than alfalfa exposed to conventional herbicides. It also seemed that a high glyphosate rate resulted in greater injury expression. So, as a rule, injury expression was greater as glyphosate rate or crop height at application increased. Of course, with some forms of injury this does not mean that all is lost; many crops recover from apparent

re a

Injury varied

injury before harvest, having no reduction in yield. However, in the case of glyphosate injury, crop injury often translated into yield reduction. Figure 1 illustrates the impact various treatments had on yield. In general, yield reduction was greater when high glyphosate rates were used, as well as when glyphosate applications were made at taller growth stages. When a high rate was applied at an 8-inch growth stage, yields suffered an average reduction of 15%, or about 0.3 to 0.4 tons per acre. The greatest yield reduction was 0.8 tons per acre. Using a low rate at this same growth stage, average yield loss typically ranged from 0.1 to 0.3 tons per acre with the worstcase reduction being 0.7 tons per acre. An unexpected lesson learned was that older alfalfa stands had a tendency to show greater injury symptoms and yield reductions than younger stands. Many contributing factors could be the cause of this. Older stands lack the vigor of younger stands; furthermore, thinner plant densities enable greater glyphosate plant coverage than would occur in a thicker, younger stand. Regardless of the reason, as a stand ages it will grow ever more susceptible to the effects of glyphosate injury.

Un t

impacting the entire crop uniformly. Plants usually expressed this injury as chlorosis (yellowing) and stunting. These symptoms persisted until the first cutting, as some chlorotic plants turned necrotic (brown). Stunting continued to persist as well, impacting yields. Fortunately, the impacts of this injury were isolated to the first crop. No stand loss has been observed, indicating that plant population is not affected by this injury. Notably, no residual injury or yield loss has occurred in the following cuttings, regardless of the degree of damage incurred during the first crop. After first cutting, affected plants recovered, showing no lingering effects of glyphosate injury. To better understand how glyphosate was impacting GR alfalfa, a few questions needed to be answered: Do higher glyphosate rates result in greater injury? Does the timing of glyphosate applications play a role in injury? How does glyphosate injury compare to injury from conventional herbicides?

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All photos Mike Rankin


by Michaela King

tentacles that include a processing and distribution business.


A ryegrass disciple

ITTING in a rocker on a wraparound porch, I found myself staring out at hilly, green pastures split by a gravel road that runs into a wooded area. The sky was the clearest it had been all week, and the breeze was creating ripples in the grass. The view, which looked like something out of a movie opening, came along with a farmer turned businessman story that was fit for the big screen as well. For an hour and a half, I sat on that porch with Dave Fischer, the fourth-generation owner of Fischer Farms, and listened as he passionately talked about his operation and the industry he’s a part of. The southern Indiana farm was established in 1870 and consisted of 332 acres during Fischer’s childhood. He reminisced on how the cows were raised behind the house and pigs roamed around the farm. Since then, the Fischer farm has seen many additions and changes and is now a 750-acre, natural-beef operation with

“I could talk about my ryegrass all day,” Fischer said. “Just ask my wife,” chuckled Indiana’s representative in the 2018 American Forage and Grassland Council (AFGC) spokesperson contest. When Fischer first started grazing the fragipan soils, with layers that restrict water flow and root penetration, his crop acres were harvested for corn silage, then cover-cropped with wheat, and everything was baled. “We struggled with moisture, just like most farmers around here. Hay was just too wet or too dry,” Fischer explained. Over time, he began to look into other options. He landed on ryegrass and began the unique system he uses today. Fischer currently plants two varieties of annual ryegrass, Winterhawk and Bruiser, which he chose for their winter survivability. From October to March, the cattle graze on the ryegrass pastures where

he hopes to get at least two good grazings a season. After the cows are pulled off the pastures in March, Fischer lets the ryegrass grow to 3 feet tall before chopping it for silage. Once harvested, the fields are planted to corn, and the cattle graze on native Kentucky 31 (KY 31) fescue pastures. In the fall, the corn is harvested as silage, and the system then repeats itself. In between harvest and planting, Fischer will often apply manure and sawdust on the pastures to return some of the nitrogen and natural nutrients to the soil. He sprays the ryegrass after it’s harvested for silage to prevent it from competing with the corn. All of the corn silage is stored in a pit and is fed as a total mixed ration (TMR) with corn, ryegrass silage, and some distillers grains. “What won me over was how aggressive ryegrass roots are. I worried about surface compaction from the tractors and choppers during harvest,” Fischer noted. With time, those aggressive roots made all the difference. In October 2017, Lloyd Murdock, an

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Cattle on the pastures and in the barns Currently, there are 450 cows that graze on his pastures and calve each year. Fischer buys the remaining needed calves from four neighboring producers, finishing around 650 cattle per year. Fischer uses a biseasonal calving system with his cows calving in April and May for the spring season and October and November in the fall. Since the calves have some variability while finishing, his system, coupled with the calves supplied by other producers, covers the entire year of sales. Around 100 heifers are kept each year as herd replacements. Fischer artificially inseminates (A.I.) all his first- and second-calf cows. If time permits, he will A.I. older cows but usually uses a bull to breed them. Cows are inseminated with hand-selected Angus and Shorthorn bulls to ensure calves have the genetics for good marbling. Fischer also keeps some bull calves of his own to use for both A.I. and bull breeding. Calves are usually weaned at 6 months old but are weaned later if grass is available. Once weaned, they are moved to their own pastures where they are free to graze and are fed a TMR.

At around 1,000 pounds, the cattle are moved to the finishing barn where they are exclusively fed a TMR. Fischer ensures these cattle are comfortable to avoid excess fat burning and keep them from gaining too much muscle. He over finishes the cattle by a month to six weeks, making sure the animal has the appropriate amount of marbling.

Shifting gears Farming wasn’t always Fischer’s primary occupation. Before 2002, Fischer worked in the computer software industry and lived in town. He explained the family farm was not suited for crops when he returned, and so he began expanding the cattle business — never with the intention of producing naturally raised beef. Quickly, Fischer was faced with the challenge of finding a premium price for his cattle. “We found that there wasn’t a premium for feeder cattle, so we decided to start finishing them out,” Fischer explained. He couldn’t find a buyer to provide a set premium for his naturally raised cattle. “I just couldn’t get any of the big guys to lock down a price,” he said. Fischer doesn’t use growth hormones or antibiotics past weaning. Frustrated with the market, he began to move to direct sales in 2004. “My daughter and I went knocking on the doors of 17

rate,” Fischer notes. “We ship almost everything out each week and keep very little inventory.” In the first five years, Fischer did all the sorting and distribution himself. Each steak was quality checked by him and was delivered personally to each of his customers. Fischer eventually passed on the fulfillment process to his wife, Diana, and a company in Indianapolis now handles the distribution, but he still tries to keep a close relationship with his customers.

Pride in his business Potential buyers often tour the farm to see how and where the cattle they will be purchasing are raised. In a typical month, Fischer hosts three customers, both potential and existing, for a tour of the farm. “We have never had a potential customer come out to the farm and not buy from us,” he said with a sense of pride. In their supplied restaurants and stores, Fischer’s customers also display a similar type of pride. He explained, “They will often have notes next to their products indicating that the meat was natural and fresh. They also will put our name on their menus, which helps bring in future customers.” Along with his retail customers, Fischer takes promoting fresh, natural beef and the agricultural industry into

Dave Fischer can talk about ryegrass all day. He has 225 acres in a ryegrass-corn rotation.

restaurants one day and got one yes,” Fischer recalled, “And to this day, that one buyer is still purchasing from us.” Since securing his first customer, word spread, and he now serves 130 customers including restaurants, smokehouses, and even some colleges. On average, Fischer Farms sells about 15 homegrown steers and 80 hogs each week. A neighboring farm provides the hogs. “The key is to grow at the right

Michaela King

extension soils specialist with University of Kentucky, came out to Fischer’s farm to study the nearly impermeable fragipan and found that the ryegrass, which was 24 inches tall, had roots that extended 29 inches deep into the soil. After three years of planting ryegrass, the fragipan was 13 inches deeper in the ryegrass pastures than those with tall fescue. The aggressive ryegrass roots broke through the fragipan and released chemicals to further mitigate the undesirable soil situation. This allowed corn roots to grow deeper into the soil and have overall better growth. Knowing the effects of the ryegrass, Fischer began to expand his ryegrass-corn system throughout the farm and rented more fescue pastures to put the cows on during the summer. On the home farm, he has 225 acres of land dedicated to the ryegrass-corn rotation and 150 acres of tall fescue pastures. Fischer also rents 600 acres of fescue pastures from neighboring farms. All of the fescue pastures are KY 31 and have the toxic endophyte. He finds that most of his cattle are over conditioned from grazing on the ryegrass and being fed a TMR by the time they are moved to the fescue pastures, helping to compensate for any lower performance on the permanent pastures.

his own hands. He often takes time out of his schedule to visit local colleges to provide samples and speak to students about the sustainability of agriculture. He promotes it and stands up against the common misconceptions associated with raising and eating meat and the impact the industry has on the environment. Unlike most ag advocates, he doesn’t tarcontinued on following page >>> March 2020 | hayandforage.com | 27

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get farm youth but rather those who get their information from the internet.

Expansion on the horizon As we watched the sun move across the sky, Fischer and I discussed the future of the farm and the business. “The goal is for a 20% expansion each year,” Fischer explained. He noted that he doesn’t want to process meat or start selling independently in a store or restaurant. Instead, he has started to look into expanding their overall market across

the country. Fischer’s son, who currently lives in Chicago, is working to get new customers and start a market in that area. Fischer explained the goal is to continue growing and eventually pass the business and farm onto his son. “The biggest struggle we have is finding places to keep more cattle,” Fischer noted. He explained that he utilizes the pastures of retired farmers who are willing to check up on the cattle. This allows Fischer to buy or rent land that is farther from the home farm since he

doesn’t have to spend extra time traveling to check on the cattle. Fischer’s passion for the land and the agricultural industry is on a contagious scale equal to a rampant virus. That passion is exercised by his drive to grow ryegrass, improve his soils, and generate a meat product that meets the high standards of both him and his customers. Striving for this perfection consumes the majority of his schedule, but his deep love for the land pushes him to always take the time to sit back in his rocker and enjoy the view from the porch. •

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NATIVE PRAIRIES OFFER MANY USES by Brian Hays and Russell Stevens RE you one of the lucky producers who still has native tall grass prairie? If you have this resource, what is the best way to utilize it in order to meet your operational goals of livestock forage, hay production, or wildlife habitat? Furthermore, what is the best way to maintain indefinitely the productivity and sustainability of this resource while meeting your goals? If you have cattle and are able to graze the prairie, set a conservative stocking rate in order to ensure longterm sustainability. This also helps to avoid additional expenses such as weed and brush spraying and feeding hay or cubes over an extended period of time each year. Your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office, county extension office, or a livestock consultant can assist you with setting a stocking rate. Once your stocking rate is correct, rotational graze early in the growing season and then rest the prairie later in the growing season. Return in the fall to graze the dormant grass as standing hay. This capitalizes on the fact that in the Great Plains about 50% of plant growth for the year is accumulated by June 15 and 75% of plant growth is accumulated by July 15. By grazing early in the growing season and then resting the pasture, plants can recover from grazing before going into the dormant season. Rest and recovery after a grazing

event are essential for maintaining a native plant community.

A haying option Consider haying the prairie as an income source if you do not have cattle, are not able to contract graze the prairie, and are not interested in maintaining wildlife. Don’t cut a native prairie for hay more than once a year. This needs to be done by the first week of July. Hay quality will be better, and it will allow plants to recover before going into the dormant season. If you wait until later in the year to cut, there will be more quantity, but the quality will be much lower, and plants will not have adequate time to recover. Leave a 6-inch stubble height when cutting for hay. If cutting hay is the option you choose, take soil samples once every three years. Fertilizing native plant communities is usually not economically advantageous, but when removing hay from the field year after year, nutrients become depleted. The plant community will decline in quality and composition as a result.

Enhance wildlife Native tall grasses and a diverse plant community prairie are ideal habitat for wildlife. Wildlife habitat management goals will be much easier to accomplish on native prairie compared to introduced forages. There are management options to consider in order to manage wildlife habitat, and they involve disturbance and rest.

Applying grazing and fire with appropriate rest intervals is the best way to manage native prairie for wildlife habitat. For example, divide the native prairie into different units and rest one unit for the entire growing season while grazing or burning the other units. When possible, apply rotational grazing to boost stock density while leaving a 6- to 8-inch stubble height. If you can’t rotationally graze, intensive early stocking and removing cattle by July 1 is also a good option. Fire can be applied periodically to the unit that is not hayed or rested in order to bolster plant diversity and structure. Depending on the plant species composition in the prairie, fire can be applied during the dormant or growing season if changes in composition are needed for the management of any particular wildlife species or group of wildlife species. The frequency at which fire should be applied depends on weather and the amount of deviation you desire from the current plant community. If you want to manage for wildlife and hay, only hay two-thirds of the prairie each year as the tall grasses are excellent habitat for ground nesting birds. Each year, leave a different third of the pasture out of hay production. Do not spray for weeds in the hayed areas. The native forbs or “weeds” in the prairie are important seed producers that provide food for birds and small mammals, and the flowers are excellent for pollinators.

Control brush You will also want to monitor the prairie for woody plant encroachment. If woody plants become a problem, use approved and effective herbicides for target species and an individual plant treatment method to control their occurrence. Another option is to use prescribed burning to control woody plant encroachment. Some species of woody plants will be killed with prescribed burning and others will be top killed but resprout after the prescribed fire. So, a prescribed fire once every three to five years may be needed to maintain control of woody plant encroachment. • BRIAN HAYS AND RUSSELL STEVENS Hays (pictured) is a pasture and range consultant with the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Okla. Stevens, also with the Noble Research Institute, is a range and wildlife consultant.

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by Adam Verner

A hayfield helper


HE snow is still flying in some regions, and many hay producers are busy looking over their equipment and getting it ready to go. It takes a lot of equipment to harvest a crop of hay. In some regions, the mower is followed by one or more passes with a tedder or “fluffer.” Next is at least one pass with a rake, then the balers hit the field. Of course, all of the bales need to be removed from the field so the next crop can get a good start. Sprayers with fertilizer and/or herbicide might also make a pass before this field can get a breather from all of the traffic. I don’t need to educate you on the process of making hay. I documented the process to bring up something most of you already know — hay producers make more trips across their fields than any other type of farmer. Here in the Southeast, it can be as many as six or seven trips per cutting if you count pesticide and fertilizer applications.

We know every bump If you are like me, then you know every bump, hole, or washout in each field. Until recent years, hay farmers have not had many options on their permanent grass fields to level them once the seed or sprigs go in the ground. About the best we could hope for is an aggressive aerator with a drag behind it, and then going over the bad spots a few times.

Keith Bolsen


4 Safe practices 4 Educational Resources


Over the past several years, almost all tillage manufacturers have entered the vertical tillage market. These units have been around since the mid-1990s but didn’t become widely accepted and used until the late 2000s. Now, every manufacturer has some sort of vertical tillage unit, if not multiple options. Each has done a good job in trying to bring a little something different to the table. Some use wavy coulters, run with not much angle, and are primarily used for sizing residue and in seedbed preparation. Others use regular disks with less concavity. They are closer to the angle that a normal tandem disk might use — 12 to 16 degrees on the disk gangs. Now, some manufacturers even have adjustable gangs on the vertical tools, which makes them even more versatile. These new versatile vertical tillage units are the answer hay farmers have been waiting for to fix those ruts, washouts, and holes in pastures and hayfields. The perennial grass type and soil determine which unit might work best. We have some of our customers running a more aggressive unit in sandy soils and others running a medium gang angle on soils with more clay. It really is up to you how much you want done.

As good as new Our customers usually run vertical tillage tools over the field in two different directions followed by a roller or cultipacker. The result is a field that is usually better than new! In a lot of cases, the grass even comes back more invigorated from the loosened soils. Soil moisture absorption is also improved. These vertical units can also incorporate dry fertilizer, if needed. A vertical tillage tool requires a little higher rate of speed than a traditional tandem disk. The higher speed can help you get over more ground with a smaller unit and is needed to bust clods in heavy soils and mix the soil and residue in the top inch layer. If done in the fall, this can help with water absorption during the winter, but it can also be used in the spring to help warm up the soil and jump start plant growth. Do a little research on your own, and you will find a number of different models on the market. If you don’t have a lot of acreage to cover, a row-cropping neighbor may have vertical tillage tools in his shed that he would rent out during their slow times. Vertical tillage can be done when the conditions are favorable in terms of moisture and when the crop is growing, or it could be a last pass over the fields before freeze ADAM VERNER up. No matter which The author is a way you go, it will managing partner be a benefit to your in Elite Ag LLC, Leesburg, Ga. fields and equipHe also is active ment. It might also in the family farm in Rutledge. help reduce your number of visits to the chiropractor. •

30 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2020

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New Holland launches BigBaler 340 High Density New Holland Agriculture recently announced launch of the BigBaler 340 High Density. It produces bales of up to 22% higher density than conventional large-square balers, significantly improving transport and bale handling efficiency. This baler offers an excellent solution for commercial hay producers and large livestock operations seeking greater rate of return and productivity

from their haying equipment. The new MaxiSweep pickup allows for smooth and accurate intake at higher speeds, resulting in greater capacity and performance. This model also introduces the unique SmartShift gearbox, which delivers a soft start-up resulting in greater comfort for the operator and overload protection for the tractor’s driveline. The unique patented Loop Master

knotting technology ensures a solid binding and protects the environment and the forage by greatly reducing the risk of twine snapping and eliminates twine cut offs. The short drawbar concept ensures excellent visibility for the operator and improved maneuverability. Comfort is enhanced with a new intuitive user interface using the large IntelliView IV touchscreen display. A range of automated features, such as the IntelliCruise technology system, which automatically adjusts tractor speed, adds to productivity and comfort. An axle concept with a hydraulic suspension delivers perfect weight distribution and improved ground following, plus easy maintenance access. The BigBaler 340 High Density achieves denser bales through the longest bale chamber in its segment and a plunger force of as much as 58% more than Plus models. It also carries over from the previous model all the benefits of the CropCutter system and the precompression chamber technology, specifically developed for high-density baling. All of these features, together with the higher rotor speed compared to the Plus models, result in outstanding efficiency in baling the field, fewer bales per field, more tons per trailer, and overall higher productivity with time and transport cost savings. For more information, visit www.newholland.com.

Versa offers new silage bagger Versa recently introduced its all new largest model of the Mobile King line of silage bagging machines. The high-capacity design can keep up with two large forage harvesters and has an easily adjustable packing density system that puts more forage in each bag. The new bagger also offers major fuel efficiency gains, which equals less cost per ton stored. The MHD1214 is the first to offer an automatic adjustable packing tunnel for filling multiple size bags with one machine. The packing tunnel collapses for easy bag installation and narrow transport. Also, the machine is designed for traveling at typical road speeds without the need for a trailer. The Versa MHD1214 sets the bar for dependability and longevity. A redesigned packing rotor ensures fast throughput, even feed flow, and a smoother running engine, resulting in improved fuel costs per ton. The feed conveyor now holds 40 cubic yards, or about 15 tons. This results in faster unloading and turnaround times.

The four-camera monitor makes it easy to control and view feed flow from the air-conditioned cab, which is entered at ground level. For more information, visit versacorporation.com.

The Machine Shed column will provide an opportunity to share information with readers on new equipment to enhance hay and forage production. Contact Managing Editor Mike Rankin at mrankin@hayandforage.com.

March 2020 | hayandforage.com | 31

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13-gallon mini drum or 50-gallon drum of ThirtyPlus* Hay Preservative with a qualifying purchase of a Case IH hay preservative applicator system.†


Moisture management is critical to hay production. Case IH ThirtyPlus Hay Preservative helps ensure a long lasting, nutritious product for livestock. With ThirtyPlus you can start baling hay with up to 30% moisture content, producing greener hay with higher feed value and less risk of spoilage. Take advantage of this offer today. For more information visit https://bit.ly/2P2xJtb, or see your Case IH dealer.

*ThirtyPlus Hay Preservative is not available in California. †Offer good through March 31, 2020. Program subject to change or cancellation without notice. See your Case IH dealer for complete details and qualifications. ©2020 CNH Industrial America LLC. All rights reserved. Case IH is a trademark registered in the United States and many other countries, owned by or licensed to CNH Industrial N.V.,its subsidiaries or affiliates. ThirtyPlus is a trademark of CNH Industrial America LLC. Any trademarks referred to herein, in association with goods and/or services of companies other than CNH Industrial America LLC, are the property of those respective companies. www.caseih.com

32 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2020

Equipment and Products for Quality Hay. TM


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Sign-up is fast and easy at hayandforage.com The new generation of TL Series inline bale wrappers from Tube-Line are built to provide producers and custom operators with high efficiency and proven reliability. To ensure that everyone can reap the benefits of the high moisture hay, Tube-Line BaleWrappers are available in multiple configurations to suit your needs and your budget. For more information please visit us online or contact your nearest dealer.

March 2020 | hayandforage.com | 33


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34 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2020


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With a Swing-Max Tandem Power Hitch, you can double the baling production of your tractor. Take PTO power from your tractor, split it in two, and easily operate two balers

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Dries hay faster than factory rolls retention Fully conditions the entire stem Increaserolls RFV, MAXIMUM leaf Dries hay faster than factory Makes softer, more palat retention Fully conditions the entire stem Makes softer, more palatable hay or clogging No wrapping or(320) clogging The NEW STANDARD inNo haywrapping conditioning rollers! 634Increase RFV, MAXIMUM leaf Balanced to 1,500 RPMs Lasts 3,000 - 3,600 hours retention Balanced to 1,500 RPMs • Dries hay faster than All NEWfactory rollers rolls Stop Crimping and Start CRUSHING Makes softer, more palatable hay ANY machine • Fully conditionsRuns theon entire stem 3,000 - 3,600 hours The Crusher is the NEW STANDARD Dries hay fasterLasts than factory rolls No wrapping or clogging • Increase RFV, MAXIMUM in hay conditioning rollers! Fully conditions the entire stem leaf retention Balanced toIncrease 1,500 RPMs All NEW rollers RFV, MAXIMUM leaf • Makes Lasts 3,000 -retention 3,600 softer, hoursmore palatable hay Runs on softer, more palatable hayANY machine •Makes No wrapping or clogging All NEW rollers (320) 634-5115 • bdrollers.com B&D Rollers of MN, Inc. 1430 2nd Ave NE • Glenwood, MN 56334

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Have you found us yet?

Find us on Facebook @HayandForageGrower March 2020 | hayandforage.com | 37

FORAGE IQ Tall Fescue Renovation Workshops March 16, Watkinsville, Ga. March 18, Spring Hill, Tenn. March 19, Lexington, Ky. March 24, Harrison, Ark. March 25, Mt. Vernon, Mo. Details: grasslandrenewal.org/education.htm

Central Plains Dairy Expo

March 25 and 26, Sioux Falls, S.D. Details: centralplainsdairy.com

Coastal Plain Beef Cattle Field Day March 26, Newton, Miss. Details: forages.pss.msstate.edu

Georgia Forages Conference April 2, Perry, Ga. Details: georgiaforages.com

Maryland Beef Producers Short Course Western Maryland – April 3 Southern Maryland – April 17 Eastern Shore – May 1 Northern Maryland – May 15 Details: foragecouncil.com/event

Hay and Baleage Short Course April 7 and 8, Alamo, Ga. Details: georgiaforages.com

Georgia Advanced Grazing School and Fencing Field Day April 14 and 15, Forsyth, Ga. Details: georgiaforages.com

Kentucky Fencing Schools

April 14, Glasgow, Ky. April 16, Grand Rivers, Ky. May 21, Campton, Ky. Details: forages.ca.uky.edu/events

Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference April 20 to 22, Fort Wayne, Ind. Details: tristatedairy.org

Kentucky Grazing School

April 21, Princeton, Ky. Details: forages.ca.uky.edu/events

The Grassfed Exchange Conference

May 27 to 29, Fort Worth, Texas Details: grassfedexchange.com


Let the harvest games begin Alfalfa cutting has begun in the low desert, which means the 2020 harvest season is officially underway. Across the rest of the U.S., current old crop hay prices are marginally below 2019, although that is variable depending on the region. Most analysts do not anticipate a large change in alfalfa acres for

2020, but it’s still too early to know if winterkill will be a factor in the North. USDA’s Prospective Plantings report is scheduled to be released on March 31. The prices below are primarily from USDA hay market reports as of the beginning of mid-April. Prices are FOB barn/stack unless otherwise noted. •

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

Price $/ton 285 190-200 240 180 250-335 185-225 180-200 290-295 175-190 200 220 215 250-300 275-300 230 Price $/ton 200 290 279 210-235 240 183 170-200 235 160-180 150-175 190 175-180 250 195 330 370-460 300 250-265 200 240 210 Price $/ton 200-225 160 240 180 128-150 160-175 150 115-200 120-160 125-150 110-120 155 160-175 150 185

Pennsylvania (southeast) (d) South Dakota South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb (d) Texas (Panhandle) Washington (Columbia Basin) Wisconsin (Lancaster)-lrb Wyoming (eastern) Wyoming (western)-lrb Fair-quality alfalfa California (central SJV) Idaho (d) Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (all regions) Minnesota (Pipestone)-lrb (d) Missouri (d) Montana Nebraska (east/central)-lrb Pennsylvania (southeast) (d) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb Washington (Columbia Basin) Wyoming (western) Bermudagrass hay Alabama-Premium lrb Alabama-Good ssb Texas (Panhandle)-Premium Texas (south)-Good/Premium lrb Bromegrass hay (d) Kansas (southeast)-Good ssb Kansas (southeast)-Good lrb Missouri-Good Orchardgrass hay California (Sacramento Valley)-Premium Colorado (northeast)-Premium (d) Iowa (Rock Valley)-Fair lrb Oregon-Premium ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Premium ssb Timothy hay Montana-Good-ssb Oregon (Lake County)-Good (d) Oregon (Lake County)-Premium ssb Pennsylvania (southeast)-Good Washington (Columbia Basin)-Good Oat hay California (Sacramento Valley)-Good Iowa (Rock Valley)-lrb Kansas (south central)-lrb Oregon (Lake County)-Good Texas (Panhandle) Straw Iowa (Rock Valley) Kansas (south central) Minnesota (Sauk Centre)-lrb Pennsylvania (southeast) South Dakota (Corsica)-lrb

230 200 110 175-190 170 125-140 165-175 145-150 Price $/ton 220-235 145-150 98-125 90-130 115-135 100-125 110-125 85 200-225 95-103 185 120-130 Price $/ton 140 200 160-180 120-160 Price $/ton 115-150 90-100 80-120 Price $/ton 270 315 83 195-250 295-315 Price $/ton 160-180 150 220 205-325 150 Price $/ton 190 78 80-85 110 160 Price $/ton 75-133 70-75 115-150 185-225 58-78







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

38 | Hay & Forage Grower | March 2020

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SINCE 1958

WE’VE BEEN PLANTING FOR THE FUTURE SINCE OUR FIRST BAG OF SEED. In 1958, the founders of W-L Alfalfas saw something no one else did: the future of the industry. Throughout the six decades since, we have been focused on one thing, bringing you the highest producing, highest-quality alfalfa seed in the world.


For xtra control, xtra quality or xtra yield potential, choose HarvXtra next time you choose W-L alfalfa seed. ®

©2020 Forage Genetics International. HarvXtra® and W-L Alfalfas are registered trademarks of Forage Genetics International, LLC. HarvXtra® Alfalfa with Roundup Ready® Technology is subject to planting and use restrictions. Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC, used under license by Forage Genetics International, LLC. Roundup Ready® Alfalfa is subject to planting and use restrictions. Visit ForageGenetics.com/legal for the full legal, stewardship and trademark statements for these products.

H AY, O R H E S S TO N ® H AY? USE THE BEST BALERS FOR THE BEST HAY. WHEN HAY IS YOUR LIFE, CHOOSE HESSTON. VISIT YOUR LOCAL HESSTON BY MASSEY FERGUSON® DEALER FOR THE BEST HAYTOOLS IN THE INDUSTRY. © 2020 AGCO Corporation. Hesston and Massey Ferguson are brands of AGCO Corporation. AGCO®, Hesston® and Massey Ferguson® are trademarks of AGCO.All rights reserved. HS20N003AG