Editor's note: The following article was published by the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute and featured in their Miner Institute Farm Report.
Milk prices are high. Feed prices have come down. So have fertilizer prices, particularly potassium. Inflation continues to be very low, as are interest rates. On average, 2014 may be the most profitable year in history for U.S. dairy farmers. This may be a year that you’ll be talking about in years to come, the “days of wine and roses” for dairy farming. This too shall pass; in fact, milk prices in the second half of 2014 won’t be quite as rosy as those in the first half). Even so, this may the time to make some prudent capital investments in field equipment and improved drainage. If not now, when?
Near the top of my list for farmers who make a reasonable amount of hay crop silage is a merger that will combine two or three windrows into one. Mergers are much better than rakes, in many cases resulting in lower ash levels. If you’re already consistently under 10% ash in hay silages give yourself a pat on the back. But if you use a rake and your ash levels are often over 10%, especially if they sometimes creep over 12%, you should seriously consider making this change.
A merger is one piece of equipment that you should demo in your own fields before buying it. Make sure that the merger is sized to your harvest equipment. We bought one at Miner Institute some years ago but it did a lousy job of picking up the windrowed forage. After consulting with our local dealer and the manufacturer’s rep we were able to trade it back in for the full purchase price and buy a bigger one from the same manufacturer. That one we tried before we signed the purchase order and it did a great job. (We also learned that it’s not good to try to merge a telephone pole along with a windrow of forage, something one of our college interns attempted with very poor — and expensive — results.)
Another investment worth considering: Subsurface drainage, AKA “tile” drainage. Cost varies depending on field size, tube size and spacing, etc., but typically is $800 to $1100 per acre. No outlet? If the field is near a source of electric power, a pumping station can be installed at the same time as the drainage system and will solve that problem. This operates like a big sump pump, with single pump systems that will serve 50 acres or so costing about $6000 or $120 per acre. Therefore, a pumping station adds 15% or less to the cost of the installation, a bargain considering what it will do. (Miner Institute has one and it works great.) Where needed, few investments can make a bigger difference in your overall forage production program than money invested in drainage. Subsurface drainage improves forage yield and quality in both wet and dry years: In wet years by allowing timely planting and harvest, and in dry years by allowing deeper rooting of perennial forages. One of the easiest times to find tile lines in a field is during a dry summer when the field is in alfalfa production. If not now,when?