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Dairy Today Expo Extra

RSS By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today

Dairy Today's Catherine Merlo brings you the latest from the World Dairy Expo.

What Corn Silage Decision Will You Make This Year?

Oct 01, 2013

With its potential for more milk and an impressive return on investment, BMR corn merits a closer look.

One of the most important yearly decisions you’ll make as a dairy producer is deciding which corn hybrid you’ll plant. Will it be a dual-purpose variety? A silage or TMF type? A Brown Midrib (BMR) variety? How do you choose?

There are plenty of options and a place for them all, but if your goal is higher milk production, BMR is the way to go, Mycogen Seeds agronomist Jon Erickson told me today at World Dairy Expo.

"BMR corn produces a higher quality feed that allows the high-producing cow to eat more in a day, and that makes more milk," Erickson said.

Mycogen agronomist Jon Erickson (left) and Wisconsin dairy producer Tom Crave discuss BMR corn at World Dairy Expo on Tuesday.

How much more milk? Erickson says results from 16 universities and third-party trials show an average of 4.8 pounds more milk production per cow per day, while dairy producers have reported 5 lb. to 11 lb. improvements. An added BMR benefit is feed-cost savings, since the hybrid allows you to decrease the amount of grain – as much as 3 lb. per cow per day -- in your TMR.

BMR corn is not a genetically modified organism (GMO) but the result of a naturally occurring gene mutation. It features less lignin in the cornstalk, which results in higher fiber digestibility. That, in turn, leads to greater dry matter intake and more milk.

According to university field trials, BMR yields continue to improve. But, I'm told, so do conventional corn hybrids, which still out-yield BMR types.

"Today’s BMR agronomics are great," said Erickson. "The plants stand well and don’t lodge. They even look like corn, unlike the early days."

Wisconsin dairy producer Tom Crave walked by just about then. We flagged him down and asked his opinion on BMR corn silage. The Crave family dairy has been planting BMR for more than 15 years. The operation milks 1,500 cows near Waterloo, Wis.

"We depend on producing a lot of milk," Crave said. "We’re not looking to produce a cash crop. We need the best quality feed. From the first year we planted BMR, we saw a noticeable difference of 5 lb. per cow per day."

The Craves put in significant effort to produce their BMR corn silage crop. "We don’t skip any steps," Crave said. "We put in the extra effort for quality and yield." They were "pleasantly surprised" during last year’s drought to see that their BMR crop produced 7 tons of dry matter. This year, Crave expects his BMR fields to produce between 8 and 9 tons.

"Your corn silage decision impacts two years," Crave said, from the time you buy the seed, plant it, grow the crop and feed it to your herd.

Mycogen has developed a Return on Investment calculator to help you choose your corn silage variety. You can find it here

Erickson walked me through a quick, simple calculation: If you’re milking 100 cows per day, get an extra 5 lb. per cow per day, and factor in a milk price of $17 per cwt., you have the potential to earn $20,000 over and above your seed costs. With so many dairies now milking 1,000 cows or more, the net return can soar to close to $300,000. Erickson says BMR can yield a potential return on investment of up to 10:1.

When deciding whether to plant BMR corn, remember that the hybrid must be segregated from other corn silages, so they don’t mix, which would dilute the benefits of BMR. "You also have to be willing to chop a longer length at harvest," says Erickson. "Instead of ¾", you’ll need to go up to a 1" to 1-¼"."

If you’re thinking this fall about which corn silage you’ll plant next spring, BMR might be worth a closer look. "It’s important to make the right decision now," Erickson said. "It can make a big financial impact."

Read "Bring on the BMR" from the May 2013 issue of Dairy Today. 

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