The right time to put the seed in the ground

Posted on April 12, 2016 in Dairy Performance
By Jon Urness
What does it cost in corn silage yield or – more importantly – milk yield per acre when planting for corn silage is delayed?

In a word – a lot!

In a year when it is critical to maximize yields and minimize costs, we may still overlook the cost of delayed planting to gain maximum milk per acre from corn silage.  We know we pay a price for later planting, but is it really that much?

In another word – yes!

In a recent Hay and Forage Grower article, Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin Extension agronomist, said there’s a 30-percent reduction in milk yield per acre planted when planting is delayed from a target date of May 1 to June 1.  That’s 1 percent per day!

While some reduction is due to reduced feed quality resulting from delayed planting, the majority of the reduction is simply dry matter yield per acre. The data is from the UW Arlington Agricultural Research Station, but would apply relatively to other areas, though the target planting date will vary by region.

As you can see in the chart below, dry matter yield drops from 9.6 tons per acre to 8.0 tons per acre at harvest as a result of later planting. Starch content also drops because the plant is less able to capture the growing degree days necessary to produce maximum starch when planting occurs late. Finally, and most importantly, milk yield per acre, a factor of nutrient quality and yield, drops from 30,000 pounds per acre to 24,000 pounds per acre.

Full season corn silage varieties at Arlington, Wisconsin.

In addition to the planting date, Lauer listed other factors that will influence yield and may have little extra cost associated:

  • Crop rotation instead of continuous corn will increase yields about 10 percent.
  • Increasing seeding rate by 5,000 to 6,000 seeds per acre over corn for grain populations has potential to take yields to the next level.
  • Going from 30-inch rows to 15- or 20-inch rows will bump corn silage yields by 7 percent.
  • Never cut fertilization. Harvesting corn for silage removes a lot of potassium.
  • Scout the crop to make timely management decisions regarding pest control or nutrient deficiencies.

About the author:  Jon Urness is the Vita Plus national forage specialist.  He grew up on his family’s five-generation homestead dairy near Black Earth, Wis. and still lives there today.  He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism.  Since 1992, Urness has provided on-farm dairy nutrition consulting in southwest Wisconsin as a Vita Plus employee owner.  He has also taken on the forage marketing responsibilities outside of the traditional Vita Plus market. 

Category: Crop varieties
Dairy Performance
Feed quality and nutrition