Is there a looming forage crisis? | Michigan Farm News

Is there a looming forage crisis?

Category: Livestock

by Dennis Rudat | Farm News Media

A trifecta of events has led to the looming forage shortage, starting with dairy producer trends to reduce costly excessive feed inventories to manage limited cash-flows. Unprecedented alfalfa winter-kill throughout many states, including portions of Michigan, followed by record delays in corn planting have only made matters worse.

As many Michigan livestock producers already know, forage inventories are already at critically low levels nationwide.

Unfortunately, it could get worse — a lot worse, according to seventh-generation Wisconsin dairy farmer, Daniel Olson.

And he should know.

Olson also operates Forage Innovations, a forage consulting business in Lena, Wisconsin. His company does forage planning and consulting in more than 20 different states working with about 650,000 cows.

“That's one out of every 14 or 15 cows in the country right now,” Olson told dairy producers during a recent forage meeting hosted by Lansing-based AIS Equipment. “We try to bridge the gap between agronomy and nutrition on farms and pull all those things together.”

A trifecta of events, according to Olson, has led to the looming forage shortage, starting with dairy producer trends to reduce costly excessive feed inventories to manage limited cash-flows. Unprecedented alfalfa winter-kill throughout many states, including portions of Michigan, followed by record delays in corn planting will only make matters worse.

“The winter-kill in a lot of the alfalfa, really everywhere from South Dakota to New York, is pretty widespread — maybe the most widespread I've ever seen,” Olson said. “Late-planted corn isn't going to be pollinating until late August or maybe September, and we still have the potential for a drought or something else that can impact forage yields. So there’s a lot of uncertainty yet on whether or not we're gonna have enough feed to feed the cows this winter.”

It’s a given, said Olson, that late-planting dates for corn has already taken four to six tons per acre off the top of normal corn silage yields. And with a late-August/early-September pollination, producers will be depending on a late-frost and a very warm September to protect an already reduced forage yield potential.

“Chopping normally occurs about 40 to 45 days after pollination, but the later we get into the fall calendar, it could get longer than that — so something that pollinates on Aug. 15th might not be ready to chop until Sept. 25 to Oct. 7,” Olson added.

Forage Alternatives?

According to Olson, many of his dairy producer customers are being forced, out of necessity, to explore alternative crops to replenish forage supplies.

“Up to this point, we've been focusing a lot on warm-season annuals, so things like Sorghum/Sudan, millet, forage sorghum, that excel at growing a lot of tons of feed in the middle of summer — they're drought tolerant and they like heat,” he said.

“In the next couple weeks, we're gonna start transitioning to cool-season mixes following winter wheat or on some prevent plant acres yet — things like small grains like forage oats and annual rye grass and maybe triticale to try to still grow feed yet this year — there's a whole host of different forage options.”

Olson warned those options will quickly become limited based on seed availability.