A field of sorghum in Nebraska. Many believe sorghum may be taking over the silage and forage market as it remains strong through drought.

Silage production in 2020 is shaping up to be a bit more complicated than the previous two moisture-heavy years.

The University of Iowa’s beef center partnered with the University of Nebraska to hosted its annual silage for beef cattle seminar series focusing on all facets of silage production in the Midwest. Due to the coronavirus, this year’s seminars were hosted online.

Jourdan Bell, an assistant professor and agronomist out of Texas A&M’s extension team, hosted the first of the four-part series July 7. Her research is focused on silage production and the impacts of dry weather and limited water.

“When we are making that feed, we need to be thinking about what we are doing in the field during those in-season conditions and if they aren’t favorable, can we make adjustments?” she said.

Silage production is focused on what the water forecast is, coupled with who the end-user will be, Bell said. While much of the silage is intended for beef cattle, those looking to feed dairy cattle have more to consider when finding the silage their high producing cows need.

“Oftentimes a lot of people in the area don’t consider the end-user,” she said. “For feedlots it’s roughage and for dairies, they need higher quality silage.”

On average, silage needs to hover around 65% moisture with 35% dry matter – something Bell said may be a bit difficult in 2020 due to the warm weather outlook.

Many producers across the Midwest produce simple corn silage, something that Bell said typically has the highest yield potential and is the easiest to produce. However, as we head into harvest, Bell said many of those looking to buy silage will be running into a quality control issue. A large portion of corn silage typically ends up being failed corn. As fields are damaged by weather or other stressors, many producers will chop for silage regardless of quality.

“The failed corn is when we start to run into quality problems,” she said.

That is when producers should consider forage sorghums. In years of warm weather hybrid sorghums have gotten as good as, if not better than, corn silage in recent years, Bell said.

“We talk about forage sorghums being a drought-tolerant option but it really does have the ability to maintain tonnage and quality under extreme adverse conditions,” she said.

The problem is that sorghum hybrids vary dramatically, unlike corn. If producers are considering planting sorghums due to a warm forecast, she recommends looking at trials based on your local area.

One new sorghum variety that is coming into the market is Brachytic dwarf. While short in stature, this sorghum is proving to be more resistant to drought issues and maintains quality throughout adverse conditions.

“At 4 to 5 and a half feet tall they’ve been maintaining tonnage,” Bell said.

The last suggestion she had for viewers revolved around small grain silage, which she said has a remarkable ability to retain quality even in the boot stage of growth. While you typically wouldn’t want to harvest at boot stage, Bell said that small grain silage can be harvested early to preserve water in water-deficient years.

Email to ask about any silage questions that may come up during 2020.

Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 605-335-7300, email or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.