BOARD OF DIRECTORS:  Greg Kerr-President, Fiver Falls; Mike Costello-Vice President, Malone; Dan Undersander-Exec Secretary-Treasurer, Madison; Ken Barnett Wausau;  Doug Bastian Madison, Darell Christensen Brownsville, Robert Eder New London; Joe Holschbach Manitowoc; Bill Kautz Milwaukee; Randy Knapp Chippewa Falls, Bryce Larson Cleveland, Ken Risler Mondovi, Scott Schultz Loyal, Paul Sedlacek Cadott; Ex-officio:  Dennis Cosgrove River Falls and Keith Kelling Madison.



Volume 22, Number 1, March 1998



elcome to the Spring 1998 Forager. We are just finishing a remarkable winter with record warm temperatures. What this will mean to the alfalfa fields remains to be seen as of this writing, but it was certainly enjoyable in terms of chores and other outside activities.  A possibility exists that the warm temperatures may damage alfalfa fields that begin to green-up too early. See the two articles concerning this in this issue. 


The WFC Symposium in Eau Claire was a great success.  It was an excellent meeting with many informative presentations.  Council members who did not attend should be getting their copy of the proceedings by way of their local council representative.  If you have not received your proceedings, please contact your local council, or if you are not affiliated with a local council, contact the WFC Office at 608-846-1825.








Our Fourth Annual Forage Spokesperson Contest was held at the Symposium, and as usual, featured some excellent presentations.  Our 1998 winner was Alan Henning, our second place winner was Jerry and Shirley Wagner from Black River Falls and the third place winner was Dave and Joyce Berning from Mineral Point.


Alan will represent us at the American Forage and Grassland Council Forage Spokesperson Contest in Indianapolis March 8-10.  Thanks to all our contestants, and a special thank you to Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. and Cenex/Land O’ Lakes for their sponsorship of this event.






Page 2

Freezing, Thawing Of Alfalfa May Cause Heaving

Page 3

Effect Of Warm Winter Weather On Alfalfa Winter Survival?

Pages 4-6

Custom Harvesting Charges in Wisconsin

Page 6

Fifteen Trifolium Conference in Madison in June

Page 6

Upcoming Events

Pages 7-11

Pricing Standing Corn For Silage



We would like to thank Dairyland Seed Co., Inc. for sponsoring this issue of The Forager.


by Dan Undersander, Extension and Research Forage Agronomist


Wetter than average soils and little snow cover this winter could spell trouble for the state's alfalfa crop.  The repetition of wet soil freezing and thawing this winter and early spring may push the alfalfa plants out of the soil. This heaving damages alfalfa plants because it raises the crown and causes greater damage to the plants from harvesting machinery.  Soils were generally dry going into winter, but due to the lack of frost, most moisture from melted snow has been absorbed by the soils. The potential for heaving is greatest on wet soils with high clay content because they expand and shrink most with freezing and thawing.


There is little management that can avoid the problem, except to leave residue in the fall.  Fields that were not harvested last fall will have more ground cover and not change temperature as greatly as exposed soil. Less freezing and thawing means less heaving. If soil does not freeze overnight and thaw during the day,

heaving may not be a problem. Most farmers have little carryover forage and will need to watch the alfalfa fields carefully to make alternate forage plans if heaving occurs to the extent that fields are lost.


If plants have heaved less than one inch out of the soil, there is a good chance these plants will reseat themselves. If heaving is over one inch, the tap root of the alfalfa will be stretched beyond its breaking point. These plants will have sufficient taproot to green-up, but then die later this spring or summer. Growers sometimes ask about taking some action such as driving over fields to attempt to reseat plants. If plants are heaved less than one inch, this is most likely unnecessary. If they are over one inch, this practice will not improve survival and will most likely break off plants and further reduce yield potential.







If you haven’t paid your membership dues for 1998, it’s not too late.  All you have to do is fill out the form below and send it with your membership dues to the address listed on the form.



Wisconsin Forage Council Membership Form



Make check payable to:

Wisconsin Forage Council

813 W. Lexington Pkwy

DeForest, WI 53532-3055

Farm/Company Name_____________________________



Local Council/County_____________________________

(Check One)    Farmer/producer_____    Educational_____     Industry_____


Wisconsin Forage Council



     (you will receive a forage Newsletter, coupon book & local mailings)



American Forage and Grassland Council



     (join national organization and receive AFGC Newsletter)







Effect of Warm Winter Weather on Alfalfa Winter Survival?

By Dan Undersander, Extension and Research Forage Agronomist


This winter’s unusually warm weather brought several questions concerning how alfalfa would respond in terms of winter injury. While much of this issue will be settled by the time you receive this, it is valuable to review these events.


First, let's consider the basic biology of alfalfa overwintering.  The shorter days in the fall initiate hardening (the development of cold tolerance) in cold tolerant varieties.  Temperature is also a factor as hardening begins when mean air temperatures are near 50°F. and appear to accelerate when temperatures approach 40°F.   Think of hardening as a matter of degree, not a yes or no situation. (In other words, how much did the plant harden?)  The degree of hardening will depend on two primary factors: the genetics of the plant (which sets the maximum hardening limit), and the fall weather (which determines how much of the potential hardening was realized).  Maximum cold hardiness is normally attained by the time the soil becomes permanently frozen, but cold hardening can continue under snow.  Freezing temperatures are necessary to attain maximum cold hardiness. Generally, we had a good fall with a long period of cool and fluctuating temperatures and near maximal winter hardening developed.  Other factors such as adequate plant food reserves, unsaturated soils, adequate potassium level and lack of rapid fall growth are necessary for hardening. 


Hardening involves an increase in cell sugars and soluble protein.  The plant cell also increases fatty acid content, especially of polyunsaturated types, that have lower melting points than the saturated fatty acids of the same length. Unhardened alfalfa plants can be injured by temperatures below 40°F. while hardened plants can withstand temperatures down to 15°F.  Lower temperatures will normally kill most plants.  Note that these are temperatures at the plant crown and root, so that plants insulated by residue, soil and snow can withstand much colder air temperatures.


Cold air temperatures are important in the retention of cold tolerance. Dehardening may occur if temperatures rise above 50°F. for a few days.  In fall or winter, less winterhardy types deharden more rapidly and initiate growth faster than more winter hardy types.  Rehardening can occur under cold temperatures provided that no growth has occurred and that sufficient food reserves are available as an energy source.

There are three concerns with the type of warm weather we experienced this year: 


1.      Warm weather will cause a loss of cold hardening, and then the alfalfa will be killed by a sudden cold snap. 


2.      Warm weather will cause periodic freezing and thawing and heave the plants out of the ground.  Alfalfa can tolerate some of this, but if the plants are heaved over one inch, the likelihood is that the taproots are broken and the plant will die later this summer.


3.      Warm weather will cause the alfalfa to break dormancy and then the shoots will be frozen back.  Generally, three to four days of 50 degree weather will cause this to happen (may occur at slightly lower temperatures on south slopes with bright sunshine and no plant residue).  Begin counting after the snow has gone from the field.  Breaking dormancy this early will likely mean that another frost will occur and freeze the alfalfa shoots.  Most alfalfa can withstand this once, and sometimes twice, but if it happens too often, the plants simply run out of stored energy to regenerate new shoots and die. This type of injury may delay green-up as new buds must form in the spring to replace the frozen ones. Watch fields carefully and dig a few plants before deciding to plow up a stand. These fields should be allowed to go to at least first flower once during the season to help the plant accumulate stored reserves and recover from the injury .



Custom Harvesting Charges in Wisconsin

by Dennis Cosgrove, UW-River Falls  and Dan Undersander, Extension Forage Agronomist


Custom forage harvesting is rapidly increasing in popularity for Wisconsin dairy producers.  Custom harvesting has several advantages over more conventional systems including:


Cost savings. While most farmers are aware of variable costs of production such as seed, fertilizer and pest control, many do not take into account the equipment and labor costs associated with producing  alfalfa. Table 1. shows production costs and allocated overhead charges for producing an acre of alfalfa.  Assuming a 4 ton yield, total cost per ton $66.25.  Of this $22.83 or 34%, is attributable to equipment expenses, interest and depreciation. If one considers labor, which is primarily associated with harvesting, this figure increases to $37.38 or 56% of the total cost of production.  Production costs for corn silage based on 1995 Green Gold Program participants averaged $45.00/ton. Of this, 67% or $30.15 were equipment and labor charges.


































These figures point out the high cost of producing forage when equipment and labor charges are considered, and that, in many instances, custom harvesting may be an economic option to owning expensive equipment. These values will vary considerably on  individual farms.  It is important to do these calculations to determine your own costs.


Consistent Forage. Quality may vary a great deal throughout a silo. Research has shown that ADF may vary up to 10 points, and moisture content up to 15 percent depending on where in the silo it was taken from. This variability would make it very difficult to accurately balance rations over time. Much of this variation is attributable to the length of time needed to harvest haylage or corn silage. Moisture content, quality and many other factors will change as harvest time increases. Many custom harvesters are capable of harvesting an enter farms haylage acres in a single day, making for a very consistent product.


Less Labor Problems. One of the biggest complaints heard form those undergoing expansion is the difficulty in securing and managing labor. While custom harvesting does not eliminate the need for hired labor, it is greatly reduced as forage handling is a major use of labor on dairy farms.


Time Savings. Removing the burden of harvesting provides producers with extra time to better manage the other aspects of the farming operation or perhaps spend time with family.


Charge Comparisons


In order to compare the cost of custom harvesting with conventional systems, I contacted five custom harvesters and discussed rate schedules, time and other aspects or their service. The charges were fairly uniform from one operator to the next.  Most differences were attributable to the size of the equipment and how many acres could be harvested per hour. For instance, a pull -type chopper with forage wagons was generally cheaper on a per hour basis than a self propelled unit with trucks due to the increased acreage the latter units could harvest per hour. I have summarized the results of these conversations below.


Most operators said they arrived at these prices based mainly on what others were charging.  Most also said that, based now on experience, they did not believe they were charging enough to cover costs, and that their prices would likely rise next year.  Here it is important to note that most farmers do not charge the true cost of operations (including labor, depreciation, etc.) when doing custom work.  This means that most published custom rates are below what the cost would be if the custom work was done as a business.  Table 2. shows cost per ton for each operator for chopping and hauling costs (two trucks or wagons). These charges are based on the average number of acres/hour they said they could chop. This varied from 10 to 40 acres.  In all cases, the costs for custom harvesting were well below that of conventional harvesting if one considers the depreciation and overhead allocated to equipment. Table 3. shows these costs on a per acre basis for comparison. These figures assume the mowing would still be done by the grower. If that was also custom done, then these figures would increase.


Table 2.  Custom Chopping & Hauling Charges

                for Haylage & Corn Silage

Table 3.  Custom Chopping & Hauling Charges

                for Haylage & Corn Silage














































Custom harvesting is an option for both large and small farms. As this is a relatively new practice, it is important to have a clear understanding with your custom harvester prior to the harvesting season. Questions to ask when considering this option include pricing (per acre or per hour), services provided, size of equipment, your responsibilities and payment options.







20-40 ACRES/HR






MOW - $12.00/HR

RAKE - $30.00/HR






WAGONS - $50.00/DAY

TRUCKS - $35.00/DAY

PACKING - $50.00/HR


      $7.50/ACRE (2ND AND 3RD CROP)








$85.00/HR  - CORN

$80.00/ACRE  - HAYLAGE


                 - $7.00/ACRE (2ND - 4TH CROP)










*estimated 15 acres/hr




HAULING - $45.00/HR

PACKING - $50.00/HR









Fifteenth Trifolium Conference in Madison in June


The fifteenth Trifolium Conference will be held at the Radisson Inn in Madison June 10-12, 1998. The conference will include discussions on the taxonomy, pathology, molecular biology, management and grazing of Trifolium species (clovers).  There will be oral and poster presentations, a field tour and a barbecue.  Registration information can be obtained by calling 608-263-1672 or 608-262-5088.





July 1, 1998

1998 Forage Expo

Arlington, WI

January 26 & 27, 1999

WFC Annual Symposium & Meeting

Appleton, WI







by Timothy Jergenson, Agriculture Agent, Polk County UW-Extension




A renewed interest by dairy and livestock producers in feeding corn silage along with the ability to efficiently harvest and transport corn silage have made pricing standing corn for silage an important issue for many producers.  It is often difficult to establish a price for corn silage because there is no market information available for the value of corn silage as there is for commodities such as grains or hay.  The agreed upon price must be affordable for the dairy or livestock producer and cover the costs of production for the grower.  Prices should also reflect the best estimates of overall price expectations for the season, and not wild short-term markets.


Following, it will be discussed how buyers and sellers can arrive at a price for standing corn to be harvested for silage that is fair and equitable for both parties.  Three methods of arriving at the economic value of corn silage as a feedstuff will be discussed.  Adjusting the price of standing corn for harvesting costs and yield will also be considered.


Economic Feeding Value of Corn Silage


The dry matter content of corn silage should be taken into account when trying to establish a price because all of the nutrients in silage are in the dry matter portion.  This prevents anyone from getting short changed.  A buyer may be paying a high price for water if the corn silage is very wet, or a seller may be under-pricing his product if the corn silage is especially dry.  For example, corn silage at 30% dry matter (DM) is worth only 86% as much as corn silage at 35% DM (30 divided by 35 = .86) when priced on an as fed basis.  Therefore, moisture needs to be taken into account if pricing is on a dry matter basis.  Take several samples during harvest to determine the dry matter content.


Nutrient Value


When pricing corn silage, it is also important to consider the nutritive value of the silage as a feedstuff.  Hlubik and Adams, Dairy Specialists at Penn State University have developed a method for valuing corn silage based on the energy and protein content relative to the prices for dry shelled corn and 44% soybean meal.  See Table 1.  These values assume 15% of the ensiled material is lost as a result of fermentation and feeding losses.


These prices do not necessarily reflect what silage market prices will be.  In a typical year, corn silage in the country often sells for less than its feed value.  Values in the table are indicative of the maximum worth rather than as a means of setting prices.

Table 1.  Economic Value of Corn Silage Compared to Shelled Corn and Soybean Meal. 1


Shelled Corn


Soybean Meal


Corn silage


Dry Matter

Corn silage


35% DM 2

































































1  J.G. Hlubik and R.S. Adams, Penn State University, Estimating the Economic Feeding Value of Corn Silage, 1993.

2 If prices are based on settled silage depth in tower silos, values in this table should be adjusted upward 5-10%.


“Quick and Dirty” Method


Another method of establishing a price for corn silage is to use the number of bushels of grain in one ton of silage.  This “quick and dirty” method uses a factor of 8 to 10 times the price of a bushel of corn grain to obtain the price per ton of silage.  A factor of 8 to 9 best fits for an in the field price, where as a factor of 9 to 10 fits best for silage in storage. 


Example 1.     Assume the corn silage contains 9 bushels of corn grain per ton of silage

$2.50/bu. corn X 9 bu./ton of silage = $22.50/ton of corn silage


Table 2. illustrates a possible shortcoming of the “quick and dirty” method of pricing corn silage based upon grain content.  Using 8 to 10 bushels of grain per ton of corn silage may be over estimating the grain content of the silage.  This research is based on 1984 data, and with advances in corn breeding, it can be assumed that the amount of grain in corn silage is increasing.  However, there is no current research available to substantiate this assumption.


                  Table 2.  Estimated Grain Content of Corn Silage.1

Corn yield




Corn grain

% of DM

Corn grain3






































                        1Iowa State University, 1984, Steve Barhnart, Extension Agronomist

                        2Silage at 35 percent dry matter.

                       3Corn grain at 15.5 percent moisture.

Grain Plus Dry Matter Value


Another method of valuing corn silage based upon its grain content takes into account moisture content of the silage in addition to the price of corn grain.  This method assumes that the dry matter of whole plant corn silage contains 50% grain.  This can be adjusted if necessary.  Table 2 demonstrates that as grain yield increases, so does the percent grain content of the silage dry matter.


To illustrate how to use dry matter content in combination with grain content to value corn silage, we will assume the moisture content of silage to be 65%.   To arrive at the amount of dry matter in a ton of this silage, multiply 2000 pounds times .35.  Next, multiply the dry matter content of the silage by .50 because we assume the corn silage contains 50 percent grain on a dry matter basis.  To determine the number of bushels of grain in the grain portion of the corn silage dry matter, divide the grain dry matter by .845 because a bushel of corn grain typically contains 15.5 percent moisture (100% DM – 15.5% moisture content = 84.5 % DM).  Now multiply the number of bushels of grain by the market value of shelled corn.















When using this method of valuing corn silage, it is important to obtain accurate moisture levels for the silage being priced.  This method yields a lower price than some other procedures described previously.  This can be attributed to the correction for moisture content in the formula.


Consider Harvesting Costs


To this point,we have considered only the economic value of the standing corn that is to be harvested for silage.  The cost of harvesting the standing corn needs to be subtracted from the price of the silage in order to arrive at an equitable value for both buyer and seller.


The buyer of the standing corn who owns his own harvesting equipment must consider the ownership costs of that equipment as well as the operating costs.  The ownership costs include depreciation, interest, and insurance.  These costs are present regardless of the number of acres harvested.  Operating costs such as fuel, repairs, and labor depend upon the number of acres covered.  Once calculated, the ownership costs may be assessed per acre or per ton.


The “Minnesota Farm Machinery Economic Cost Estimates” is a publication that is helpful in calculating harvest costs.  Based upon this guide the estimated cost to operate a two-row forage harvester with tractor and operator is $52.63 per hour, or $31.81 per acre at 1.65 acres per hour and 100 hours per year.  Forage wagons will be needed to transport the corn silage to the storage unit.  The estimated cost to operator two forage wagons is $27.02 per acre.  This brings the total estimated harvest cost to $58.83 per acre.  If the anticipated silage yield is 17 tons per acre, the harvest cost per ton would be $3.46 per ton delivered to the silo or bunker.  Packing, and storage costs are other expenses that need to be considered as a part of harvesting.  These items vary greatly from farm-to-farm because of distance involved and type of storage units.


Estimating Yield of Standing Corn


Standing corn sold for silage is often priced per acre.  Once a value is established per ton for the corn silage, an estimate of yield per acre is necessary to determine a price per acre.  The following procedure can be used as a yield check to quickly establish an estimate of corn silage yield.  This method provides only an estimate of anticipated yield and does not account for field loss during harvest.  Where available, electronic weigh pads or other scales can be used to measure yield more accurately.


Row Width

Length of Row to Cut


52 ½ ft.


32 ½ ft.


28 ¾ ft.


27 ½ ft.


26 ¼ ft.


25 ft.


This method of estimating corn silage yield is most effective when the crop is near physiological maturity.  Price discounts will need to be made for wet, immature corn and dry overly mature corn.


After the corn silage yield has been estimated, multiply the price per ton times the number tons per acre anticipated to arrive at a price for standing corn per acre.  A summary of the process of pricing standing corn is illustrated in Example 3.


Example 3.




Value of Corn Silage per Ton



Harvesting Costs per Ton



Net Value per Ton



Estimated Tons per Acre

     X 17


Net Value per Acre





To effectively price standing corn harvested for silage, the buyer and seller must agree upon a method for arriving at its value. The method selected should consider three key variables: economic feed value of the corn silage, harvest and transportation costs and yield potential.  These variables should be applied based upon local market conditions that cover an entire growing season and not a particular day within the growing season.

A Note from Your President:

Welcome, and hello to our new members and returning members.  A reminder for membership – be sure to use your coupon books when planning spring inputs.  There are discounts available in it that more than pay for the cost of membership.  Also, as indicated earlier in the newsletter, if you have not received your Proceedings from the January 1998 Annual Meeting (which are free of charge with a paid membership in 1998), please contact your local council.  These Proceedings discuss many topics happening in forages, and are a good reference and thought provoking source. 


The state Wisconsin Forage Council Board encourages any local council or individual to submit articles for The Forager.  We are especially interested in local demo projects, production and utilization tips and marketing ideas you can share with other members.


The local councils are in the process of setting up this year’s demonstration projects.  Dan Undersander has sent out suggested projects, and the board hopes all can share in these demonstrations.  As individuals and local councils, it is important we participate and share data from all of Wisconsin, so as members, we can learn and advance forages in our state.  We look forward to putting the data together before the Appleton meeting next year, and also have the local councils publish their results in The Forager.


The state board needs your input on direction, projects, ideas, etc. you may have.  We are always open to input.  We are also looking to increase membership, so if you have a neighbor or business associate that may be interested, TELL THEM about the Forage Council.


Thank you for your time, and see you this summer at the Expo at the UW-Arlington Experimental Station.


Greg Kerr --- Board President