MVP Dairy got started chopping silage on Sept. 11. The farm harvested around 2,100 acres of corn for silage in 2023.

Silage kicks off 2023 corn harvest

By Joel Penhorwood and Matt Reese

A challenging start to the growing season, dry conditions and slow growing degree day accumulation for many areas left silage harvest well behind schedule for Ohio. For the week ending Sept. 9, silage was 27% completed compared to 51% completed at the same time last year and the 5-year average of 39%, according to Ben Torrance, State Statistician, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This giant bunk was empty just a couple of days earlier at MVP dairy.

The action ramped up for silage harvest at MVP Dairy in Mercer County Sept. 11 when they harvested 18 months-worth of feed for the 4,500-head dairy operation. They chopped around 2,100 acres of corn over about a week and a half in mid-September to meet the needs for the dairy.

“It is sometimes referred to as organized chaos in order to make all the magic happen,” said Luke VanTilburg of MVP Dairy. “It takes about 30 folks. Two 12-row choppers are what we run and then we have eight semis with each chopper, so 16 semis. We have a five-man crew packing silage —three pushers and two packers. You also need someone in the scale house — that takes about three of us back at the shop area to sample the forage, test it, check moisture, and take feed samples so that way we can make sure we have good quality feed as the season goes along. And then, of course, it takes a handful of people to keep everything moving and keep everybody organized.”

Joel Penhorwood interviewed Luke VanTilburg of MVP Dairy about the 2023 silage harvest.

The first few days of chopping silage yielded good results and a nice way to begin the harvest season.

“It was dry in May and in June, just like pretty much all of Ohio. Then we started getting some timely rains. We’ve never had excessive rain the whole growing season. We’ve always just kind of got six tenths of an inch here and a little more there — basically just enough. Every time you would just start to think, ‘Hey it’s really starting to get dry,’ we would get just enough to kick that can down the road for another 10 days until it started getting dry again,” VanTilburg said. “Now finishing the season out, we’re a little dry again, so I think it might be taking some of the top end yield off. Overall, it was a very good growing season. We’re very happy with the with the silage we’re harvesting as well as the potential for the grain in the corn and soybeans out there yet.”

Along with being a bit behind schedule in Ohio, farmers statewide are dealing with corn leaf disease issues. They are seeing similar challenges at MVP.

“We are seeing some tar spot come in. It has really just kind of shown up here and there,” VanTilburg said. “A couple fields have it worse than others. It’s definitely spotty, but every field has a little bit. Overall, it is nothing too terribly bad, but it definitely seems like it’s gotten worse here with the cooler weather as well as the foggy mornings. The cooler, foggy mornings created a little more of an environment for it to thrive in. We’re definitely starting to see the effects of that a little bit more and we’re adjusting our harvest to those fields that need it a little quicker.”

A couple of days into silage harvest, some of the corn acres were still on the wet side.

“Most of the silage is coming off about 65% moisture, so the moisture range right now is about right. We’ll keep hunting and pecking around some fields to figure out which ones are getting to  that level to continue harvest or see if we have to take a break or not,” he said.

According to Matt Hutcheson, CCA and field agronomist for Seed Consultants, Inc., it is important to chop corn silage from 65% to 70% moisture content when the “milk line” is one-third to two-thirds down the kernel. Corn silage that is too wet can result in loss of nutrients through seepage and ultimately poor-quality feed. Corn silage that is harvested when it is too dry will not ferment correctly and can cause mold to develop, Hutcheson said.

“In addition to plant moisture, particle size is another important factor that ensures proper fermentation and optimum feed quality. Particle size can vary depending on percent dry matter; however, in general it should fall within the range of .5 to .75 of an inch. Particles that are too large or silage that is not uniformly chopped can allow for more oxygen to be trapped within packed silage which can significantly reduce the feed value of the silage,” Hutcheson said. “The rate at which the silo is filled also contributes to feed quality. In general, silos should be filled as quickly as possible to allow for the best silage fermentation. By quickly filling a silo and making sure the silage is properly packed, producers will provide the environment for proper fermentation. Harvest equipment and procedures should be managed so that silos can be filled in 1 to 3 days. Research has shown that delays beyond 3 days can result in significant losses in feed value and dry matter.”

The corn silage is a vital part of a high-quality diet for MVP cows to produce milk for Dannon yogurt products produced at the nearby Danone manufacturing plant in nearby Minster. To meet Danone standards, all MVP Dairy milk is Non-GMO Project Verified and is marketed exclusively to Danone North America. The dairy provides six or seven truckloads to the plant each day, which accounts for about 10% of the 60 to 70 truckloads of milk the Minster plant receives at each day.

Starting with the soil health, MVP Dairy (a joint venture between the Kansas-based McCarty and Ohio-based VanTilburg families) keeps a focus on environmental stewardship and high quality from start to finish with manure application, cover crops, and hybrid selection. There is monitoring and tracking every step along the way to ensure the silage and milk meets Danone specifications.

The MVP cows produce high-quality milk for the Danone manufacturing plant in nearby Minster.

“We do our non-GMO testing and that sort of thing during silage chopping,” VanTilburg said. “We’re also working with crop insurance adjusters too keep them organized at which fields we’re going to and trying to make sure we don’t have to leave any corn standing and we can just chop it all and not have to leave any for crop insurance as a part of the program. It takes a lot of effort to coordinate things and keep everybody flowing.”

As the massive group at MVP works to harvest silage to feed the cows, it is also a major effort to keep the humans fed.

The five-man crew packing silage at MVP Dairy includes three pushers and two packers.

“We have my Mom and Dad and a couple family friends — basically it’s a team of five — that makes a hot meal for the entire crew every evening. They pack their lunches, but we try to provide them a hot meal just as a way to say, ‘Thanks,’” he said. “It’s harvest season and that makes for some long days. This just kind gives them a nice break and a nice warm meal.”

Visit ocj.com to watch a video of the impressive MVP silage operation.

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