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Build silage piles correctly

By Jim Dickrell 

With large crops of forages coming off fields this fall in many areas, some farmers might be storing silage in piles for the first time.

Constructing these piles correctly spells the difference between having good quality forage or a spoiled mess, says Jerry Clark, an Extension soil and water educator in Chippewa County, Wis.

“Without proper packing, silage losses can easily exceed 30% of ensiled dry matter,” he says. “With proper management, silage piles serve as a short-term storage option with dry matter losses as low as 15%.”

The first step is to construct storage piles on a solid, well-drained surface. Concrete or asphalt slabs are preferred. Barring that, well packed surfaces underlain by geotextile fabric can work. The pads should be constructed above existing ground level to ensure rainfall and silage seepage runoff, Clark says.

“To ensure well safety and prevent water contamination, silage piles should be at least 100′ away and down slope from any existing well,” he adds. “On lighter soils, or with shallow well depths, this distance should be even greater.”

Piles should be constructed using the wedge method, with a 3:1 maximum side slope for safety. “Systems that have steep side slopes will [also] have inadequate sideslope packing and appreciably higher silage losses on the side,” Clark explains.

Forages should be added to the pile in thin layers no more than 6″ in depth. Forage moisture should be at least 65% to 70% at ensiling to improve packing.

“When constructing the pile, plan for at least 12″ of feed removal per day,” he says. Such a feed out rate is needed to minimize spoilage, though lower rates can be removed during cold weather.

“Therefore, when planning for a 270-day (nine month) feed storage period, the length of all piles should add up to 270′ long.”

Piles should also be covered as soon after the pile is completed as possible A 6-mil black plastic sheet should be used, weighted down with tires over the entire surface, and sealed along the sides of pile.

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Overtime for Farm Workers

California first U.S. state to promise overtime to farmworkers

California will become the first U.S. state to require farmers to pay overtime to field workers, milkers, feedlot cowboys and fruit pickers under a bill signed on Monday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

The bill would phase in overtime pay for farmworkers from 2019 to 2022. In an industry where a work week during the harvest season can be as long as 60 hours, the measure requires farmers to pay overtime after eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

“We’re shedding tears of joy right now,” said Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers Union, which lobbied for years for an eight-hour day for agricultural employees.

The new law, part of a sweeping liberal agenda that passed in the last months of the 2015-2016 legislative session, ends an exemption meant to benefit farmers during the Depression-era implementation of the nation’s first wage and hour laws.

It will make California the first state to require overtime for farmworkers who work more than eight hours per day. Under a 1970s executive action, farmworkers in the state get overtime after a 60 hour week or a 10-hour day, leading to long, backbreaking shifts and six-day work weeks, Rodriguez said.

California employs an estimated 800,000 seasonal farmworkers, about a third of the agricultural industry’s nationwide workforce, according to the University of California report. Its agricultural economy is the largest in the United States, with $47 billion in revenue last year, according to state data.

Other states and the federal government continue to exempt farmworkers from overtime and other protections. Supporters, including Latino lawmakers whose parents and grandparents worked in the fields as migrant laborers from Mexico, say the change rectifies years of unfair practices.

But opponents, including many farmers and most Republican lawmakers, said that agricultural work is seasonal, with 60-hour weeks during the harvest and planting seasons, and no work at all during other parts of the year.

Requiring overtime, these opponents say, would be prohibitively expensive, leading farmers to cut back hours for pickers during a time when the workers need to earn more to make up for months of unemployment during other parts of the year.

“Farmers, ranchers and growers cannot afford this mandate,” said state Senator Jim Nielsen, who represents agricultural and suburban areas north of Sacramento.

Farms employing fewer than 25 people would have three additional years to comply with the new law.

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New mobile app for pricing standing corn silage

The start of corn silage harvest for 2016 is just around the corner.  In 2015, nearly a quarter of all four million acres of corn planted in WI were harvested as silage with an estimated market value between a quarter and a half billion dollars.  However, like hay, there’s no established commodity market for corn silage like there is for corn or soybeans.  Pricing standing corn silage is even more difficult than pricing standing hay, because the seller often has the option of letting the corn crop mature and marketing it for grain, but harvest and storage costs must be considered as well.

To help determine a fair price when buying or selling corn silage, UW-Extension agriculture agents Greg Blonde and Ryan Sterry teamed up with Smart mAPPS Consulting to develop a new free Android app that can quickly estimate the value of standing corn silage.  It’s based off a detailed spreadsheet Sterry developed with input from several state Extension specialists (Shaver, Lauer, Linn).  The app includes links to current corn and hay market prices and allows buyers and sellers to enter their own yield estimates and harvest costs.  The difference in value of soil nutrients removed when harvesting silage versus corn for grain is also calculated helping sellers fine tune their standing value per acre.  The app is free and available for Android smart phones and tablets at: or just search the Google Play Store for “Corn Silage Pricing”.

According to Blonde and Sterry, “The Corn Silage Pricing mobile app not only allows farmers, Extension Educators and other Ag professionals to access current market information for both grain and hay at the same time, it’s  a convenient tool to determine the value of standing silage for buyers and sellers alike.”  The app features separate tabs for buyer and seller calculations.  Using both tabs will show the range in silage value, with the Seller tab being a price ‘floor” and the Buyer tab a price “ceiling”.

“Pricing Standing Hay” and “Pricing Wet Corn” are also available at no cost on the Google Play Store.  For more information contact Greg Blonde, 715-258-6230,, or Ryan Sterry, 715-531-1930,

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Summer Forage Tour

Thursday, Sept. 1
3:30-5:00 pm Pre-tour option at Beck-n-Rich Farm

Raphine, VA

Featuring: forage sorghums for silage & baleage
5:00-5:30 pm Registration at Virginia Tech McCormick Farm
5:30-6:15 pm Dinner
6:15-7:30 pm Tour: – summer stockpiling for late-summer grazing,
– crabgrass, lespedeza, & summer annual forages
– building drought resistance with healthy soils

To Beck-n-Rich Farm 4875 Borden Grant Trail Fairfield, VA 24435
Directions from I-81

To VT McCormick Farm
128 McCormick Farm Circle Raphine, VA 24472

-I-81, exit 200
-east on 710 Sterrett Rd (1000 ft)
-left on Rt. 11 (1 mile)
-right on 707 Jonestown Rd (1 mile)
-left on Borden Grant Trail (700 ft)

-I-81 exit 205
-east on Raphine Rd. (½ mile)
-farm on left

Registration is $10 /person; includes dinner and tour.
Payment must be received by Friday, Aug. 26 to account for dinner.

Name Phone

# attending

Make check payable to: “Augusta VCE”
PO Box 590
Verona, VA 24482

Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color,
disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation,
race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis
protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of
Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State
University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia
Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Interim Administrator, 1890
Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg. If you are a person with a disability and
desire any assistive devices, services or other accommodations to participate in this activity,
please contact Matt Booher at (540-245-5750/TDD*) during business hours of 8 a.m. and 5
p.m. to discuss accommodations 5 days prior to the event.
*TDD number is (800) 828-1120.
This field event is partially funded by a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and the Virginia
Ag Council.

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USDA plans to buy 11 million lb. of cheese, extends MPP deadline

Dairy farmers will receive additional assistance from the government following today’s announcement by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to purchase approximately 11 million pounds of cheese and extend an application deadline.

The cheese purchase will come out of private inventories and will be donated to assist food banks nationwide. The value of the cheese comes to $20 million.

USDA’s purchase would help reduce the highest cheese surplus in 30 years and increase bottom-lines for dairy farmers after a 35% reduction in revenues the last two years.

“We understand that the nation’s dairy producers are experiencing challenges due to market conditions and that food banks continue to see strong demand for assistance,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need. USDA will continue to look for ways within its authorities to tackle food insecurity and provide for added stability in the marketplace.”

In addition to the cheese purchase, USDA will extend the deadline to enroll in the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for Dairy to Dec. 16, 2016. The previous deadline was Sept. 30.

Earlier in the month USDA announced approximately $11.2 million was earmarked for dairy producer financial assistance through the MPP-Dairy program. It is the largest payment since the program began 2014.

A number of groups had asked USDA for assistance in regards to Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935, which allows surplus food to be purchased and donated into nutrition assistance programs. Still, the $20 million purchase does not come close to industry recommendations. National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) asked for $100-150 million and American Farm Bureau Federation requested at least $50 million.

“This cheese purchase will provide some assistance to America’s dairy farmers through increased demand for their milk,” says Jim Mulhern, President and CEO of NMPF. “We will continue to assess the economic situation facing dairy farmers, and suggest ways to help farmers endure this lengthy period of low prices.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson says the help is appreciated but it still won’t fix the business environment dairy farmers work with.

“Current projections indicate that farm revenue from milk sales this year will drop to $31.5 billion – a $20 billion plunge from 2014 revenue highs. Even with modest price rebounds, dairy producers are draining capital reserves, or worse, going out of business,” Johnson says.

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Wooden breast chickens

UD researchers investigate wooden breast in broiler chickens

Wooden breast syndrome can affect broiler chickens, making the meat hard and chewy, rendering the birds unmarketable. Although it poses no threat to human health, wooden breast can cause significant economic losses for growers, who sometimes see the disease in up to half their flocks.

That’s a big concern in the U.S., which leads the world in broiler chicken production, and elsewhere around the globe, where chicken increasingly is being relied upon as a high-quality source of protein.

University of Delaware researchers are working to combat the disease. They’ve been analyzing the genes involved in wooden breast disease and have identified biomarkers for the disorder. Also, as reported recently in the journal PLOS One, they have determined the unique biochemistry of the hardened breast tissue. Such findings are expected to help advance new diagnostics and treatments for the disorder.

The research is led by Behnam Abasht, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Birds afflicted with wooden breast are easy to identify. “The disease manifests itself exactly as the name implies, making a chicken’s breast extremely tough and with the feel of wood,” Abasht said.

The disease also may cause issues such as white striping, in which white lines are visible parallel to the muscle fibers — a condition that may decrease the nutritional content.

With improvements in poultry production over the past 50 years leading to increased muscle yield and growth rate in chickens, Abasht said he wanted to see if these production gains could also be increasing the rate and development of new muscle disorders.

Pinpointing genes

One of the first ways Abasht and his team looked at the problem was by studying all of the genes expressed in chicken breast tissue to get an understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms contributing to the disease.

By constructing complementary DNA information from five affected and six unaffected breast muscle samples from a line of commercial broiler chickens, the team compared their gene list to previously published histology findings on the disorder.

“From over 11,000 genes with a detectable expression in the tissue, we found that around 1,500 genes are significantly different between these two groups, the healthy and the affected,” said Abasht. “Once we had the list, we did a functional analysis to find out where those genes belong — do they belong to specific pathways or specific cellular functions? We were trying to make sense of the genes and what they tell us.

“What we found is that there may be localized hypoxia — a lower oxygen concentration in the affected tissues. In addition, our findings strongly suggest presence of oxidative stress — when free radicals build up and there aren’t enough antioxidants to detoxify them — as well as an increase in calcium in the tissue cells.”

Since there has been limited research on the recently emerged disorder, the team wasn’t sure what to expect and had little to compare their results to.

“By using advanced technology such as RNA sequencing we were able to characterize the general profile of this disease, which was a key first step in the research process,” said Marie Mutryn, who graduated in 2015 and did her master’s thesis on the disease. “I was very lucky to be able to study such a novel disease at UD as a master’s student, and I really felt like I was able to make an impact to help the poultry industry combat this disease.”

Identifying biomarkers

Building on the gene expression data, the team started to identify biomarkers likely to be associated with wooden breast incidence and severity.

Using a subset of the genes found in the previous study, the team quantified the expression levels of 204 genes in 96 broiler chickens.

From a list of 30 genes that were the most important in separating the chickens into groups of unaffected, moderately affected and severely affected, the team identified six genes that are increased in moderately to severely affected birds when compared with unaffected birds.

These biomarkers can now be used to accurately classify commercial chickens with or without the disease, as well as to potentially indicate its severity.

“This work will directly impact the health and well-being of over 500 million broiler chickens raised in the Delmarva region each year,” said Erin Brannick, director of the CANR Comparative Pathology Laboratory, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, and a veterinary pathologist who was a collaborator on the research. “It truly underscores the purpose of the land grant institution to apply cutting-edge research techniques to real-world agricultural problems.”

A unique metabolic signature

The researchers also found that affected breast muscle possesses a unique metabolic signature reflecting elevated lipid levels, muscle degradation and altered use of glucose. These findings offer new insight into the biochemical processes that contribute to tissue hardening.

“There were lots of similarities in the results of this work and the gene expression work that really confirmed each other,” Abasht said. “The results confirmed that there’s oxidative stress in affected muscles.”

Supplementing poultry diets with vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, may help lower the incidence of the disorder, Abasht said, and is the subject of future research.

Feed efficiency

The researchers also studied 2,500 broiler chickens raised under commercial conditions for 29 days to study their feed efficiency until market age at 47 days.

“Efficient chickens eat less food per unit of weight gain,” Abasht explained.

The results showed a significant statistical difference between healthy and affected chickens, with the affected chickens having a larger breast muscle, higher body weight and greater feed efficiency.

But that’s not the case every time. “You can still find chickens that aren’t as efficient and have a relatively smaller breast muscle, yet they have the disease,” Abasht said.

UD researchers are currently studying the onset and early course of this disease through funding supports made by Arthur W. Perdue Foundation and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.

Going forward, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently funded a $500,000 research grant proposal (Grant No. 2016-67015-25027), which is a collaboration between UD, Iowa State University and Ohio State University, that aims to further characterize the genetic basis of wooden breast. Abasht will serve as the principal investigator on the project.

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Dairy Budgets

Dairy budgets available through ISU Extension and Outreach

By Larry Tranel, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach July 29, 2016 | 6:48 am EDTBudgets will help farmers monitor their financial situation.

Managing a dairy farm’s finances and ensuring it is profitable is no easy task. The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach dairy team has developed a series of budgets to help dairy producers understand their current financial situation and determine the profitability of their operation.

The budgets can be found online through the ISU Extension and Outreach dairy team website.

Dairy businesses are often made up of many components that can either complement or compete with each other. The enterprise analysis allows producers to take stock of the entirety of their operation and determine its profitability.

“These are the most comprehensive budgets that we’ve seen specifically made for the dairy industry,” said Larry Tranel, dairy specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “We have included budgets for grazing, organic and conventional operations. As we look at the cost of production versus milk prices, it is imperative that producers understand their cost of production, especially those who are just getting into the industry or making changes.”

Three different types of budgets have been prepared, providing farmers who operate a conventional, organic or pasture based system an opportunity to set up a personalized budget plan that works for their operation’s herd size and production level.

“While the budgets are fantastic tools to begin the process of examining a farm’s profitability, visiting with an ISU Extension and Outreach dairy specialist is still a good idea,” Tranel said. “Contact your dairy specialist for further information and assistance.”

The budgets available online will be updated semi-annually, allowing for a current look at costs and projected income throughout the dairy industry. While the budgets are currently only available in PDF format, an editable Microsoft Excel spreadsheet version is coming soon.

The organic budgets included were created through a grant provided by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

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MPP Dairy

Dairy producers are reminded about MPP-Dairy signup

Dairy producers are reminded that the sign-up period for the 2017 Milk Margin Protection Program for Dairy producers (MPP-Dairy) is underway and runs from July 1-September 30, 2016 at your local FSA office. Participating farmers will remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

The MPP-Dairy program is a voluntary safety net program established by the 2014 Farm Bill that continues through December 31, 2018. The program provides eligible producers with indemnity payments when the difference between an all milk price and average feed cost (the margin), falls below coverage levels producers select on an annual basis.

Eligibility & Coverage Levels

To be eligible for MPP-Dairy, operations must produce and commercially market milk in the U.S., provide proof of milk production when registering, and NOT be enrolled in the Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy program (LGM-Dairy) along with meeting conservation compliance provisions required to participate in the MPP-Dairy program through FSA.

USDA has a web tool to help producers determine the level of coverage under the Margin Protection Program that will provide them with the strongest safety net under a variety of conditions. The online resource, allows dairy farmers to quickly and easily combine unique operation data and other key variables to calculate their coverage needs based on price projections. Producers can also review historical data or estimate future coverage needs, based on data projections. The secure site can be accessed via computer, Smartphone or tablet 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Once enrolled, dairy operations are required to participate through 2018 by making coverage elections each year. Producers can mail the appropriate form to the producer’s administrative county FSA office, along with applicable fees without necessitating a trip to the local FSA office. If electing higher coverage for 2017, dairy producers can either pay the premium in full at the time of enrollment or pay 100 percent of the premium by Sept. 1, 2017. Premium fees may be paid directly to FSA or producers can work with their milk handlers to remit premiums on their behalf. Eligible dairy operations must register for MPP-Dairy coverage at the FSA office where their records are stored. Producers will need to supply the following information when signing up for the program.

  • A production history establishment, which is completed on form CCC-781.
  • Election of the annual coverage level and completion of the contract on form CCC-782.
  • Payment of the $100 administrative fee, annually.
  • Payment of the premium, if there is a premium owed by the due date. This will be dependent upon the premium level selected.

Intergenerational Transfers

Also beginning July 1, 2016, FSA will begin accepting applications for intergenerational transfers, allowing program participants who added an adult child, grandchild or spouse to the operation during calendar year 2014 or 2015, or between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2016, to increase production history by the new cows bought into the operation by the new family members. For intergenerational transfers occurring on or after July 1, 2016, notification to FSA must be made within 60 days of purchasing the additional cows.

More Information

For more information regarding the Milk Margin Protection Program visit the USDA Dairy MPP website or view the USDA Program Fact Sheet for the MPP-Dairy or stop by a local FSA office to learn more.

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Animal Activists

Be prepared: Activists don’t play fair at events and expos

By Hannah Thompson July 11, 2016 | 9:58 am EDT

Summer is my favorite season, and it isn’t just because of the warm weather and weekend trips to the beach. For me, summer has always been county fair season. Some of my best memories are from early mornings on the washrack, late nights playing cards in the barn and of course showing off a year’s worth of hard work in the show ring.

While many of us in agriculture see fairs and expositions as an opportunity to connect with consumers and share what we do, unfortunately animal rights extremist organizations are approaching these events with an entirely different agenda – to disrupt and protest, ultimately bringing attention to their cause. A group named Direct Action Everywhere has made headlines this year for disrupting everything from Bernie Sanders rallies to the Pennsylvania Farm Show with the goal of promoting their desire for animals to be recognized with full “personhood.”

It is an unfortunate reality that in addition to packing a showbox, ordering the ribbons and trophies and lining up the judges, anyone involved in a fair or exposition this summer needs to also prepare for activist protests and disruptions. Whether you are an exhibitor or on the fair committee, preparation and planning is key to ensuring the event is a positive and educational experience for everyone.

A few tips:

  • Contact local law enforcement and let them know about your potential concerns. Ask for their advice about handling different scenarios and when you should get them involved. This could also be a great opportunity to build a relationship by inviting them to stop by the show and learn more about your industry.
  • Monitor online conversation to see if you may be a target. Protests are frequently organized on websites or social media. Search the web and social media for the name of your event a few times a week leading up to the event. Also, be aware of high-profile visitors or activities going on that may draw media (and therefore activist) attention.
  • Establish a protocol to follow in the event of protests or disruptions. Designate clear roles and responsibilities – including media spokespeople – and have back-ups in place in case the primary individuals are unavailable.
  • Draft an animal welfare policy for your farm or club. Have every exhibitor affiliated with you sign the policy and keep it readily available during the event. Having your commitment to animal care clearly written out will help demonstrate how seriously you take it if it’s questioned by a visitor.

While you prepare for the worst, you should also hope and plan for the best – meaningful engagement with curious fairgoers. Before you load the trailer and pull out of your driveway, take some time to brush up on your industry’s talking points and key messages. The Alliance also has many outreach and security resources, so don’t hesitate to visit or call us at 703-562-5160 if you have questions.

Good luck this fair season! If you need me, I’ll be at the lemon shake-up stand.

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