Blue Hill, NE -
What kind of crop it is; how badly it was beaten by the wind, rain, and hail; and what a farmer hopes to get out of it now have to be considered, but ag specialists say turning those storm damaged fields into livestock feed sources can pay off in more ways than one.
UNL Extension Forage Specialist Bruce Anderson talked with farmers at crop disaster outreach meetings in Blue Hill and Gibbon last week. He says what looks like a total loss might yet provide food. “When we look at a lot of these hailed crops that we’ve got throughout the region, one of the things that we may be able to do in those areas is convert some of them as a salvage operation to some forages,” he says. Chopping what’s left of the corn for silage is a common answer, but late-growing plants or cover crops like turnips, oats and some ryes can put extra nutrition in the fields for livestock come fall. “Get them planted, oftentimes during the month of August, so that they’ll be ready for use later in the season and provide feed that maybe we’re losing as result of the hail from other crops,” says Anderson. Many farmers put cattle on stalks after harvest anyway, so experts say a ruined field can still have benefits.
“If there is such a thing [as benefits] when you lose a crop, is the ability to maybe make a few dollars, especially a corn farmer, renting out those acres to a livestock producer,” says Webster County Extension Educator Dewey Lienemann. Injured plants have disadvantages too - specialists say growers should be mindful of nitrogen buildup as too much can be bad for animals. “There could be some toxins like aflatoxins and actually some other poisons that can be detrimental to livestock, so it goes beyond the nitrate level as well,” says Lienemann.
“While they’re something that we have to respect and should be testing for in some of these feeds, they’re not something to fear or completely run away from,” says Anderson. Experts say it’s not as perfect as harvesting a healthy grain crop, but forage and grazing options may blunt some of this loss.
“You graze it much like you would a pasture, you don’t want to abuse it or overuse the forage source out there, and also you don’t want to pack the ground any more than you have to, so use common sense,” says Lienemann.
“Looking at some of the opportunities we may be able to take advantage of to kind of maybe make the best out of a bad situation,” says Anderson. The forage specialists have some of the same advice as agronomists do with storm damage - they say waiting to see what regrows is okay to do, and they say insurance payments may dictate what can be planted now.