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September 14, 2017

Fall Harvest

By: Karl Czymmek, Joe Lawrence and Curt Gooch, Cornell CALS PRO-DAIRY

Measure corn silage dry matter for best results.

Whole plant dry matter is always the best indicator for silage harvest timing, but this year it will be even more important to use this measurement to categorize fields for harvest timing.

A light frost or stressful growing conditions can make corn look much drier than it actually is as leaves die but the ear and stalk remain green. A reduction of healthy leaf tissue will slow whole-plant dry down.

Look for more on the current corn silage harvest outlook in the upcoming PRO-DAIRY e-Leader newsletter.

Silage Leachate: Collection systems may need more focus this year.

A late crop of corn silage increases the risk of harvesting a crop that is too wet. While immature corn silage does not dry down as well, the fermentation process is better when it is harvested within the target dry matter range (65-70% for bunker silos and 62-67% moisture for tower silos). This means tracking crop dry matter levels before harvest and harvesting based on measured whole-plant moisture content is more important than usual this year. If the crop must be harvested before the target corn silage moisture range is achieved, another factor must be considered: a wet crop may generate more leachate, and low flow/high flow systems may need more management this fall.

Undiluted silage leachate is very potent and can harm fish and other aquatic life if it reaches a stream or waterbody. Evaluate leachate potential and management options before harvest. Due to the additional pressure from weight of the forage as tower silos are filled, they are expected to generate more leachate for a given amount of feed than horizontal bunker silos. Concentrated leachate from tower silos should not be allowed to reach surface waters. Since mature crops will be harvested first, these may absorb some of the extra moisture that later harvested, immature crops, may contribute.

Bunker silos with a low flow collection system: conduct maintenance now. Make sure pumps are functioning, monitor low flow leachate production and if higher than normal, check collection tanks regularly to ensure they do not overflow. Healthy grass makes an effective filter area. Keep concentrated low flow and feed residue off grass filters.

Harvesting of the first plots for the Corn Silage Hybrid testing program began this week in Albion, NY.

2017 Update: Bunker Silo Safety Reminder from the OSHA Work Group


A sample of items to cover for pre-harvest preparation and safety meetings:

  • Farm specific safety concerns and other issues: narrow roads, soft shoulders, main highways, traffic, spilling silage or tracking mud on roads, etc.
  • Rules of the road, safe speed, specified routes and alternatives to reduce neighbor irritation. Beware of complacency - the 22th time at the same stop sign can get boring, but you still need to stop!
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Tired operators are more likely to make mistakes. According to research, almost everyone is hard wired to need 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Any less sleep than this, especially night after night, will result in impaired function and significantly reduced reaction time.
  • Carry water and snacks/stay hydrated. Take breaks periodically.
  • Stay in communication. Let others know of hazards when they are observed.
  • Stay off cell phones while driving. Hands-free cell use is legal, but can still be a distraction.
  • Stay in trucks or equipment when waiting. If personnel must exit, radio other operators.
  • If personnel are on the ground, they should never walk out in front of or behind any machine or truck without first making eye contact with the operator.
  • No extra riders unless in training.
  • Make sure lighting is adequate for all work performed after sunset.
  • Moving poorly marked or lighted equipment at dusk is especially dangerous - use an escort vehicle to reduce risk.
  • All tractors and machinery that travel less than 25 mph on public roads need to have a properly mounted SMV (Slow Moving Vehicle) emblem. SMV emblems need to be clean and not faded, must be mounted in the center of the rear of the machine (or as close to the center as possible), and be 2’ to 6’ above the road surface.
  • Completely shut down machinery when clearing debris. Remove and pocket the ignition key so no one can restart if you are not visible.
  • Make sure that staff use the proper personal protective equipment, such as hearing protection in noisy areas.


  • Check over trucks and equipment. Are tires at proper inflation? Change excessively worn tires. Are lights all functioning? Recheck each day before work starts. Trucks need to be equipped with fire extinguishers and safety triangles or flares.
  • Provide fire extinguishers on larger tractors and self-propelled harvesters.
  • Make sure road safety features meet the legal minimum.
  • Check field entry routes for wash outs and culvert problems.
  • Mark driveways with flags so that drivers do not have to guess where the edge is.
  • Check common routes for road crew activity or other new issues.
  • Consider providing hi-visibility clothing or vests to staff to help prevent run over incidents.
  • Daily: remind drivers, packers and chopper operators to be safe. Use safety belts and take no unnecessary risks.


  • If new silage is being added to old silage, mark where the two materials are joined: the joint areas can be very unstable during silage removal and can collapse without warning because the silage will not be interlocked at this point. Extra caution is warranted with any activity in these areas.
  • Avoid putting new silage over the top of existing piles covered with plastic. Major slippage of the top pile can occur during silage removal.
  • Pile height should not exceed the reach of the unloading equipment.
  • Filling staff should be told the target pile height.
  • Packing tractor(s) should be ROPS equipped, with operators belted in.
  • Rollover hazard is obvious. Side slope steepness is an important safety concern. There are many factors that influence safe operating gradient.
  • Minimize exterior side slopes as much as practical, beware of soft spots.
  • Safest packing is achieved when driving up and down the pile: some references suggest no more than a 3:1 slope in the direction of travel for this type of operation.
  • As your farm changes, please consider how to size and organize bunker silos so that pile height and slope allow packing equipment to drive safely over all sections of the pile.
  • Only the most experienced equipment operators should pack. Provide new packing operators with proper training.
  • Due to tip-over hazard, for hydraulic dump bodies, do not back up onto the pile to dump.
  • Inform all staff that only authorized personnel should be in the silo filling area, extra people should be kept out. Make sure appropriate signage such as “No unauthorized personnel” and “Danger” is posted visibly.

Covering crew:

  • Conduct safety meeting before going up onto the piles.
  • Designate those that will work near the edge. All others stay away!
  • Make sure workers are not wearing slick surface shoes.
  • Remind workers to watch out for each other and no horseplay on top.

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