Strategies to consider when corn silage planting is significantly delayed

Posted on June 18, 2019 in Forage Foundations
By Phil Krueger, Mycogen® Seeds nutritionist
Corn silage planting has been significantly delayed this year for many U.S. dairy producers.  Unfortunately, cows have a requirement for physically effective neutral detergent fiber (peNDF) to efficiently and economically produce milk.  We can supplement digestible fiber via byproducts, and starch via corn grain of some sort, but cows have a requirement for peNDF that can only be met with silage.

Here’s a summary of the current situation:

  • Late-planted (late-June/July) corn yields lower bushels and silage tonnage.
  • Producers have lower inventories of corn silage this year due to increased cow numbers and lower hay/haylage/winter annual yields in 2018.
  • Many producers had reduced yields of first-cut alfalfa this spring due to winterkill or thinned stands.
  • Some producers who typically rely on fall-planted winter annuals, such as wheatlage, triticale, or ryelage, were unable, or significantly hindered, to plant last fall.  What was planted produced lower or no forage yields this spring.

Bottom line: dairy producers are looking at significantly reduced forage inventories, and many are asking what options they still have available.  With everything considered, corn silage is still the preferred forage of choice.  Dr. Joe Lauer, University of Wisconsin-Madison corn agronomist, wrote this article to help shed some light on options producers have available.  In summary, he recommended:

  1. Plant corn in July for corn silage.  It’s still the easiest to establish, highest-yielding, and easiest to manage crop on a grand scale that provides the most nutrition.
  2. During the last week in June, change from planting corn for grain or silage to planting for emergency yield.  Longer-day corn hybrids yield the most digestible NDF and can be supplemented with corn grain.
    1. Stick with hybrids that will mature for corn silage (more than 30% dry matter (DM), about 40% NDF, and about 30% starch) until late-June, after then switch back to the original maturity hybrids (longer season) for the region to get more digestible NDF.
  3. If the crop frosts prior to normal maturity, allow it to dry to the proper whole plant DM (32% to 36% DM) before chopping.  It will likely look significantly drier than it is with dead-looking leaves, like when you shell corn.
  4. Even though BMR hybrids generally yield less NDF than non-BMRs, they will still provide the most digestible NDF per ton compared to all other corn silage options.

Finally, as a reminder, if you are planting corn for silage into late-June- or July, expect the following:

  1. Significantly lower yields (25% to 50% lower).  Reduced yields will require more acres and total tonnage. You may target a lower amount of DM per cow than under a “normal” year. Talk with your nutritionist and contact your forage and feed suppliers now about other forage and byproduct options, purchasing corn grain, costs, volumes, etc.  You need to plan to cover your needs if corn silage yields are significantly reduced come fall.
  2. Significantly lower starch content (40% to 100% lower).  Look into covering your starch (supplemental grain) needs, whether that’s with dry shelled corn from the elevator, high moisture corn of your own or other farmers’ supply, hominy, or other starch options.  Michael Miller, William H. Miner Institute, urges producers to consider contracting grain or starch needs to supplement forages low in starch.  Because of delayed corn planting, the risk of future price increases is real.
  3. Significantly higher NDF content (20% to 50% higher) that is typically more digestible (5% to 15% higher).  You will likely feed less DM pounds of late-planted corn silage to meet the cows peNDF requirement, but that NDF will be more digestible, allowing you to feed more of it.  This could be a catch-22 if you’re short on total forage inventory.

If you have any questions or concerns about this year’s difficult planting situation, contact your Vita Plus consultant or agronomist as soon as possible.

Category: Forage Foundations
Forage harvesting