The Hybrid Maze New silage hybrids offer producers dizzying choices

March 5, 2009 06:00 PM

Long considered a minor crop, corn grown for silage is drawing more interest from seed companies and producers who are looking for less expensive, highly digestible, dairy-friendly corn.

"High-digestibility hybrids are ideally suited for cows making a lot of milk,” says agronomist Everett Thomas of the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute/Oak Point Agronomics, in Chazy, N.Y.

Look for proper maturity: hybrid maturity plus planting date plus harvest date. "This is more important than genetics,” Thomas says.

How many hybrids should you plant for silage? It depends on your corn acreage. For 100 acres of corn, plant at least two hybrids. Four to five hybrids are not too many. "But 1,000 acres for silage doesn't mean you should plant 20 to 30 hybrids,” Thomas warns.

Thomas offers these additional points to consider:
  • Don't assume that the newest corn hybrids have better digestibility. Rely on trial data from multiple locations over multiple seasons, if available.
  • Leafy hybrids are hot sellers right now. They're a good option if they have high digestibility. Not all do. Many have up to twice as many leaves per plant, all above the ear. The leaves don't add to forage quality and represent only 10% to 12% of the whole plant yield. Some leafy hybrids have a longer harvest window, which can be convenient if you use a custom harvester.
  • Brown midrib (BMR) corn hybrids are not for all farms or all cows. "Their lower yield and high seed cost makes them very expensive per ton of silage,” Thomas says. "BMRs are not economical for heifers and low-producing cows, so they should be stored in a separate silo.”
  • Keep in mind that Bt hybrids may be a few points wetter at harvest because the plants are healthier. So you may have to delay harvest a few days to reach the proper dry matter levels.

Bonus content:

"Managing Corn for Silage from Seed to Silo"
-Powerpoint by Ev Thomas

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