Smooth silage harvest shakes off shadow of 2019

This year’s corn silage harvest has been a stark and pleasant contrast to this time last year, when producers were fighting snow to get corn silage in

Corn silage yields have been surprisingly durable this year despite dry growing conditions and an early frost.

After fighting ruts, mud, snow and spoilage last year, producers have welcomed a much smoother harvest for corn silage.

Peter Gilbraith, of Gilbraith Farm Services in St. Claude, says his custom silage service has almost reached the end of their customer list for the year.

“Yields are well above average,” he said. “We just didn’t need that early frost. It’s going pretty good, way better than last year.”

Why it matters: Producers put a rush on silage operations this fall, likely wanting to avoid a repeat of least year’s nightmare harvest.

Gilbraith estimated he has taken an average 18 to 20 tonnes per acre off the fields. Quality, likewise, has been good, Gilbraith reported.

The province saw a sudden dip in overnight temperatures Sept. 7-8, leading to lows below -2 C and as low as -5.2 C in western Manitoba and into the central region.

Parts of the province were anticipating a good corn silage crop prior to the frost. According to an Aug. 24 report put out by the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association, corn silage at the time was expected to come in at average or above in the southwest and central region. By Sept. 10, however, a subsequent report noted that corn in the southwest had hit the R5 stage at the time of the September frost, a stage it noted could be vulnerable to significant yield loss with frost damage. The same report noted yields might be depressed in the Interlake and northwest.

According to the Oct. 6 provincial crop report, corn silage yields were actually coming in at average or above in northwest Manitoba, although crops were less impressive elsewhere in the province. Central Manitoba reported average yields or below — despite the good yields reported by Gilbraith — something the report linked to the September frost. Most silage harvest in the area was complete as of Oct. 6.

In the southwest and Interlake, the province reported corn silage harvest underway, with variable yields depending on area and moisture. Yields in the Interlake were coming in around 12-14 tonnes per acre. Silage harvest was complete in eastern Manitoba.

Mark Hiller, who operates a custom silage operation out of Glenella, Man., has also reported “very good” yields.

“The moisture is very good too,” he said. “It’s surprising how well the crops did. Some of the fields didn’t get a lot of moisture, yet the fields are really producing.”

According to the province’s ag weather network, much of the Interlake, central Manitoba and patches of the southwest still sat below 70 per cent of normal growing season precipitation as of Oct. 4. Areas closer to Brandon and the far southeast, both of which saw major rainfall events and flooding this summer, sat anywhere from 70 to 132 per cent of normal precipitation.

Chomping at the bit

Weather this fall has been a pleasant change from 2019, when rain and an early-October snowstorm left producers and custom operators struggling to bring in the harvest.

The last 40 days have been a non-stop rush for his business, Gilbraith noted Oct. 7, thanks to a long string of good harvest weather.

“We just kept chopping every day, because the weather permitted,” he said.

Hiller also noted the vastly improved harvest.

“It’s going to be so much better feed,” he said.

Feed in general is much more abundant in his area this year, he noted, another bit of good news in a province that saw critically low feed reserves during the last two years.

Both Gilbraith and Hiller, however, noted many of their customers were anxious to get silage in early, at times courting wetter feed, likely thanks to the looming memory of last fall.

“I think this year a lot of people panicked early just because they were scared of the weather, in case it turned bad,” Gilbraith said.

Hiller, similarly, has seen a rise in producers itching to get silage out of the field.

“With the fall we had last year, we found that guys aren’t wanting to wait so much this year,” he said. “They’re wanting it off.”

As of Oct. 7, Hiller was in the thick of harvest. His business had completed about 55 to 60 per cent of his customer list, he estimated.

About the author


Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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