COAL VALLEY, Ill. — Illinois producers can purchase
insurance for their forage crops. However, JoDaviess and Stephenson counties are
the only two counties in the state where the Federal Crop Insurance Corp. has
established a rate for forage insurance.
“The only way for producers in other counties to do it is to
have a written agreement that you are going to request a rate from one of those
two counties to be put on your farm,” said Dale Weaver of Central Insurance
Agency in Clifton.
The forage production policy is available for alfalfa,
alfalfa/grass mixtures or red clover on a tonnage basis.
“The policy is based on your records for the tons of forage
you produce, and you can guarantee up to 75 percent of the yield,” explained Rod
Nelson of Rural Community Insurance Services in Anoka, Minn.
Insurance crops include alfalfa where 60 percent or more of
the ground cover is alfalfa, alfalfa/grass mixture where the alfalfa is more
than 25 percent, but less than 60 percent of the ground cover and red clover
where 60 percent or more of the ground cover is red clover, said Nelson during a
presentation at the 2013 Illinois Forage Expo, hosted by the Illinois Forage and
“You need to have an adequate stand that is based on plants
per square foot and the age of the stand,” he said. “Crops can be insured the
year after the plant is established, so if you seed in the spring of 2014, the
first year it will be insured is 2015.”
For alfalfa fields, the policy requires nine plants per
square foot the first year, six plants per square foot in year two and 4.5
plants per square foot for years three through five. Alfalfa/grass mixture
requirements are six plants per square foot for the first year, four plants per
square foot in year two and three plants per square foot in years three through
The policy covers several causes of crop loss, including
adverse weather conditions such as drought, excess moisture and winterkill, as
well as fire, insects and plant diseases.
“You need to make a decision for coverage by Sept. 13, 2013
for 2014,” Nelson said. “The underwriting report must be completed by Oct. 16,
2013, and the 2014 acreage reporting is due by Dec. 15, 2013. The 2014 premium
billing will occur on July 1, 2014.”
Kendall Guither, a forage producer near Walnut, talked about
his operation where he focuses on producing quality baleage during the
“Baleage in a wet year has been a wonderful thing — as of
now, we’ve got 160 acres of third crop wrapped up,” he said. “We’ve been able to
stay on our cutting schedule even in a year like this.”
When he switched to making baleage in 1997, Guither said,
few people knew anything about it.
“Now the product sells itself,” he noted.
“I normally take six cuttings per year, and I have done
seven cuttings,” he said. “I have 440 acres of alfalfa, and I take five cuttings
during the summer and then the last cutting in November as a dormant
The average frost date for Guither’s area is about Oct. 20.
“You need a hard freeze for the plants to go dormant, and
then you have a large harvest window after dormancy,” he said. “If you see it
lose a little of its color or there are brown tips at the end of the leaves, you
need to cut the alfalfa that day. Otherwise, you will get too much leaf loss if
you let it get too dry.”
The goal is to prevent any alfalfa regrowth after the final
cutting that will deplete the sugar in the roots.
“Sugar is antifreeze to that root,” the forage producer
said. “I leave a 4- to 5-inch stubble to catch the snow for insulating the
Guither likes to cut his alfalfa in wide swaths.
“The wider you spread it out, the better because you want to
get the sun on the plant and let the plant breath,” he explained. “Plant
respiration is so important since alfalfa is 83 to 85 percent moisture — you’ll
lose 2.5 percent dry matter per hour until it gets below 80 percent
It is important to do it right when making baleage, Guither
“You can’t bale poor hay and get excellent hay,” he
“Ideally, I like to stay in the moisture range of 45 to 52
percent for baleage,” he added. “Moisture for the fermentation process is like
fuel for a tractor — you can choke it down and it will still run, but it won’t
run properly. Fermentation won’t work properly without enough moisture.”
Producers should not use wheel rakes for baleage production.
“You’ll get more dirt and ash in the crop, and if you get 1
percent more ash, that will reduce forage intake by 2 percent,” Guither said.
“There are clostridia bacteria in the soil, and baleage is the perfect
environment for that bacteria to grow, which will ruin your crop.”
He uses a rotary rake for his alfalfa production.
“It can handle a wet, heavy crop,” he reported.
Bales are wrapped soon after they are made.
“I prefer to wrap at the site I store the bales,” Guither
“I use 1 mil plastic, and I wrap the bales eight times to
get a good seal to stop the oxygen filtration into the bale and starve the
bacteria,” he added. “If the bacteria are growing and creating heat, they’re
consuming part of your forage.”