Hernke's Inc. Farms, south of Cannon Falls, again will host the annual Hay & Forage Expo June 24 and 25.
This the second time Expo will be in Minnesota and on the Hernke farm. The event marks its 29th year and is hosted by The Farmer, Wallaces Farmer and Wisconsin Agriculturalist.
The Hernkes--brothers Marc and Dave, and cousin Rahn--own and operate 2,500 acres. They raise 500 acres of alfalfa annually, chopping 80% of it as haylage for their 800-cow dairy herd.
"We decided to host Expo a second time because it is good for the local economy and for Minnesota farmers," Marc says. "They don't have to drive so far to see the latest in hay and forage machinery."
The Hernkes set aside 150 acres for the Expo site. Sections of fields will be used for mowing, conditioning, baling and chopping equipment demonstrations. A 10-acre exhibit site will display balers, choppers, mower-conditioners, tedders, baggers, rakes, bale stackers, hay dryers and more.
Besides raising crops and milking cows, the Hernkes' farm businesses include trucking dairy creamery products and operating a rock quarry. They raise alfalfa, corn, corn silage, soybeans, sweet corn and peas. The farm originated in 1927 when Alvin and Ida Hernke bought 80 acres of bare ground and raised crops, turkeys and cattle with help from their six children. Five of those children—Owen, Al, Virgil, Marvin and Elroy—farmed together and on their separate dairy, beef and crop operations for decades. Today, Owen's sons, Marc and Dave, and Elroy's son Rahn, operate the family business.
Various family members have specific responsibilities. Marc handles the agronomy side; Rahn manages the dairy; Dave manages the trucking business and helps with field work; Marc and Dave's brother, Mike Hernke, manages the rock quarry and lime operation; and Marc's wife Julie handles bookkeeping. Al and Owen are retired, yet still active in the business.
Big on forage
Dairy has always been the farm's main enterprise and accordingly, high-quality alfalfa hay, haylage and corn silage production falls next in line. They raise 500 acres of alfalfa in a three-year rotation. They plant two types of fall dormancies—3.5 and 4.1—as insurance against a tough winter. Each field is soil sampled prior to seeding so they can apply the right nutrients. All fields receive about a ton of lime per year, too.
To set the stage for a successful season, they keep a close eye on alfalfa's Relative Reed Value. Herd manager Ben Kruse starts walking fields in early- to mid-May and measures alfalfa plant height and vegetative stage with a PEAQ stick. Their goal? To take first cutting as haylage with a RFV of 150 to 160.
PEAQ, which stands for Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality, is accurate for pure alfalfa stands between 16 and 40 inches tall, according to University of Minnesota forage specialists, but not fall cuttings.
"PEAQ has been pretty accurate in the past," Marc says. "When Ben tells us it's time, we're out there and try to cut it all within three to four days."
They cut a 30' wide swath with a triple mower mounted on the front and sides of a 280-hp front-wheel assist tractor. Making three windrows helps the hay dry faster, eliminating raking. They merge seven windrows together and then chop it. They harvest 80% of their alfalfa as haylage, 20% as baleage.
They use two tractors in their bunkers: one with a blade for pushing haylage and corn silage around the pile and a second one for packing. Pile height ranges from six to eight feet; width ranges from 25 to 30 feet; bunker length depends on tonnage harvested. After packing, they cover each bunker with white plastic and tires to seal out weather and oxygen.
Come fourth cutting is when the Hernkes have their alfalfa cut and bagged as high-moisture round bales.
"Depending on the weather, our corn silage is coming in about the same time as the last hay crop," Marc says. "We have our neighbor custom-bale and wrap it for us."
With their 28-day hay cutting schedule, the Hernkes easily take four cuttings of alfalfa per season and sometimes a fifth. Yields for haylage on average run between seven to eight dry tons (15% moisture).
Their corn silage goal is 28 to 30 tons per acre; dry corn, 225 bushel per acre. They plant corn varieties that range in maturities from 96-day (dry corn) to 112-day (corn silage).
2014 was a good forage year, compared to 2013, Marc says. After the bitter winter of 2012-2013, they had to re-seed 90% of their hay. Finding themselves short of forages, they decided to try cover crops to provide some feed for their cattle. They found winter rye worked best, after trying winter wheat and triticale.
"We chop the winter rye for heifer feed and plant that ground with soybeans," he adds. "Plus, with the cover crop, we have less wind and water erosion, and better soil tilth."