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Corn product selection is critical for maximum grain yield potential and quality silage. Planting products with different growing degree unit requirements to mid-pollination can help decrease risks of heat and drought stress during pollination. Corn product selection for either grain yield potential or silage production should be based on university, seed company, and on-farm trials from multiple locations and multiple years.
Product performance in plots across multiple locations and years can indicate the consistency and yield potential of a product, and in which environments it tends to excel or falter. A few variables about each location to consider are soil type, crop rotation, tillage, temperature, and rainfall.
Figure 1. Harvesting silage corn.
Corn product selection for silage is one of the most important management decisions in silage production. Corn products recommended for silage should be selected for above average yield and high nutrition quality including NDFD and starch. Therefore, having corn silage products that have both high grain and high forage yield can benefit making a high quality and high yielding forage. High grain (starch) corn silage products can help provide energy in the dairy ration, allowing the producer to reduce the amount of shell corn needed in the dairy/livestock ration.
For improved silage performance, select silage corn products that have been tested locally and are adapted to local growing conditions for maturity, excellent or strong overall plant health, disease, and insect resistance, and drought tolerance. Products that show consistent performance over multiple locations with different soil and weather conditions are the best option. Growers should also evaluate corn product performance information from multiple sources, including universities, seed companies, and on-farm strip trials.
It is often best to build a package of several corn products for silage production to help spread out harvest and potentially reduce agronomic risk.
Emergence ratings should be considered when selecting corn products. Commercial products often have very good or excellent vigor and emergence ratings. Products with poor emergence or vigor are not advanced to commercial status. A strong emergence and vigor rating is especially important if a product will be placed in a no-till or reduced tillage field, or will be planted early, as these management practices can result in cool, wet soil conditions.
Products should be evaluated for tolerance to diseases that are common in your geography. Keep in mind that fungicide applications may mitigate some of the impact associated with a product’s susceptibility to foliar fungal diseases such as gray leaf spot and northern corn leaf blight, although that yield protection comes at a higher cost and risk than product resistance or tolerance.
Standability is a common agronomic trait that is critical for ensuring the grain produced is harvestable. Stalk and root strength are particularly important for corn that will be planted at a higher population, or for corn that is likely to be under drought stress or any other stress that reduces standability. Stalk diameter decreases with increasing population and drought stress favors stalk rot. If stalk rot appears to be a persistent problem in your system, consider placing more importance on standability and stalk rot resistance in your product selection.
Drydown, stalk quality, and root strength can help manage harvest schedules. Several variables can affect these characteristics such as stresses endured throughout the growing season, untimely frosts, and various pathogens.
An often overlooked characteristic when selecting a package of corn products is growing degree unit (GDU) requirements to flowering or mid-pollination. Spreading out GDU requirements to mid-pollination can help decrease the risks of heat and drought stress during pollination.
To optimize the growing season and environment and maximum silage yield potential, consider using products that mature slightly later than grain products. This could be up to 5 to 10 days later relative maturity (RM), keeping in mind the effect on grain drydown and risks of early frost. These products with later maturities have the potential of producing between two to four tons per acre yield advantage over the standard maturity products.1 Selecting products with a range in RM may widen the harvest window.3 Planting products with a range in maturity also widens the pollination window, thus reducing the risk that the entire crop may experience hot and dry conditions during pollination. Feed requirements, harvest timing, and the potential of wet soils at harvest are other factors that may encourage the selection of earlier maturing products.
University and commercial studies have shown that grain yield is a good general indicator of high silage yield. However, high grain yield is not always an indicator of high quality silage yield. It is critical to evaluate each silage product being considered for maturity needs and strong agronomics then yield and high starch content and fiber digestibility.
When growers select silage products, they should determine what is needed to improve their current feeding ration (higher starch, improved fiber digestibility or other factors). Forage analysis by a reputable laboratory and consultation with an animal nutritionist can also help determine the best silage corn for an operation.
1 Roth, G.W., and Heinrichs, A.J. 2001. Corn silage production and management. Penn State Extension. Agronomy Facts 18. http://www.cas.psu.edu/. 2 Undersander, D.J., Howard, W.T., and Shaver, R.D. 1993. Milk per acre spreadsheet for combining yield and quality into a single term. Journal of Production Agriculture vol 6: 231-235. 3 Coulter, J. Corn silage hybrid selection. University of Minnesota. Silage. http://www.extension.umn.edu/. Other sources used: Hinen, J. 2006. The big 6 - Focus on the 6 keys to quality corn silage. Mid-South Ruminant Nutrition Conference. http://www.txanc.org/. Lauer, J. 2011. Selecting corn silage hybrids. University of Wisconsin. Agronomy Advice, Field Crops 28.5 – 89. http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/. Coulter, J. and Van Roekel, R. 2009. Selecting corn hybrids for grain production. University of Minnesota Extension. www.extension.umn.edu Thomison, P.R. Key steps in corn hybrid selection. AGF-125-95. The Ohio State University Extension. http://ohioline.osu.edu Elmore, R., Abendroth, L. and Rouse, J. 2006. Choosing corn hybrids. Iowa State University Agronomy Extension. www.agronext.iastate.edu Web sources verified 10/17/16. 121912010102