After months of planting, watering, and waiting, it is finally time to harvest your crops and store them for feedout. Of course, covering your silage always seems to happen as the dusk chases you, with the wind picking up and rain on the way. Here are some tips for handling the plastic properly to prevent damage and get the most out of your investment.
First- consider the plastic itself. In times of tight budgets, it may seem harmless to opt for a cheaper plastic cover. But remember the immense amount of time and money in that pile. It’s worth it to spend more on a proper oxygen barrier plastic, which has an ROI of $1.50 to $10 per ton of silage. oxygen barrier plastic (not to be confused with vapor barriers) came from technology in the food industry, and preserve silage much better than generic painter’s plastic.
Next- prep and gather your team. The night you need to get the pile covered before a rainstorm is NOT the best time to begin discussion of who will cover and how. Just like you plan anything else on your farm, have a discussion with your team early in the season. Review issues that occurred last year, review this year’s plan, and outfit your team properly.
No one should wear heeled boots on the pile- they can damage plastic. Boot marks on their own aren’t an issue for oxygen barrier plastic- if they don’t go all the way through. If you do see holes, however, patch them immediately and switch shoes. Sneakers/ tennis shoes or wellies are best, as they have a rubber sole. These will provide traction, but protect the plastic.
Gloves are also recommended to protect hands and help keep fingers from punching through plastic. Wind can pick up suddenly, and you don’t want to claw through the film while holding on tight!
When unrolling plastic on the pile, hold the plastic low to the ground as you unfold it. Weight down the opposite ends with Gravel bags so the wind cannot take it. It’s best to have as many people as possible holding the plastic; it’s an “all-hands” project. Working quickly will limit the opportunity for wind to interfere.
Do not pull the oxygen barrier film tight- you want to allow the film to follow the contours of the silage surface. You’ll see the plastic “suck down” into those crevices, displacing oxygen.
If you are using more than one strip of film, they should overlap by at least 5 feet. Some teams tape the seams or glue them- it can help prevent oxygen ingress and keeps the plastic from blowing up. Repeat the covering process with a top layer of 5 mil Black on White plastic, or with a reusable cover. Be sure to weight properly with Gravel bags or tires to prevent wind from getting under the plastic.
The cost of plastic has unfortunately gone up this year, as a result of the pandemic and shipping issues. Be sure to treat the plastic well and it will perform at its peak, protecting your crop investment.