Plan to Harvest: Tips for a Successful Harvest

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A successful harvest should start with a planning meeting with the teams involved in the process, including harvesting, hauling and ensiling. It’s important to review the process, timing, who’s leading in each area and contingency plans, says Hugo Ramírez, assistant professor at Iowa State University.

Monitoring Moisture

  • Target 35% dry matter (DM) with a realistic range of 33% to 38%.
  • Ensiling wet corn silage may result in poor fermentation and low energy.
  • Cut some plants every two to three days for about a week to measure DM content. Drydown typically increases about 0.5 percentage units per day, but a heat wave could speed it up, so test fields regularly to hit optimal harvest.

Minimizing Shrink

  • Use of an inoculant promotes effective fermentation, offering a 2% to 3% improvement in recovery of DM.
  • The best opportunity for uniform inoculant application is at the chopper.
  • Use non-chlorinated water or less than 1 ppm chlorine for the inoculant, and keep the water below 85°F; otherwise, the bacteria can weaken or die.
  • Use oxygen barriers to maximize recovery of DM and reduce top-surface shrink by about 40% to 50%.

Chop Length

  • Chopping to a very small particle size, like confetti, does not substitute for kernel processing.
  • Chop length should be 19 mm (¾ inch).
  • Set kernel processor at 2 mm to not only crack but fracture the kernel.
  • Packing density should be at least 15 lbs. of DM per ft3.

Safety First 

  • Shallow piles are safe piles. The drive-over pile should have a slope of 3:1.
  • If packing in tall bunkers, use dual tractor tires to pack close to the wall edge but still maintain a safe driving distance.
  • If collecting silage samples as forage is being delivered, stop all traffic until the person sampling gives the signal that he or she is clear of the area.


Is My Kernel Processing Sufficient?

Kernel processing is now standard practice when chopping corn because it damages the protective layer of corn kernels, providing better access to the starch for rumen bacteria. Properly processed corn silage should not have any visible whole corn kernels.

Seperated Kernels
Photo Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Forage Team


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