Planning for corn silage production

Production Strategies

Corn silage production strategies depend on when the decision is made to utilize corn fields for silage. Some producers plan that specific fields will be harvested for silage before planting; others wait until late in the season to make this decision. The decision to harvest a field for silage from the outset is common farms where corn is grown only for silage or where particular fields are used only for silage production. The advantage of this strategy is that cultural practices such as hybrid selection, plant populations, and fertilizer applications can be adjusted specifically for maximizing the potential of this crop for silage.

Delaying the decision on which fields to harvest for silage is a strategy that is commonly used on many farms where corn is grown for both silage and grain. The advantage of this system is that producers are able to salvage fields for silage that may have had a production problem and may have low and uneconomical grain yields. Also, producers may use this strategy to adjust the amount of silage harvested based on forage requirements. This strategy is best adapted to areas where corn production is more risky, for example, on droughty or wet soils, in areas with marginal precipitation, or in short season areas where frost is frequently a problem. The disadvantage of this system is that the corn is usually managed for grain production, and some silage yield may be sacrificed.

Field selection

Selecting soils that are best adapted to corn silage production is a key aspect of profitable production. Corn silage can be produced on soils where grain production would not be economical because of the greater returns from the silage harvest. Nevertheless, some soils are not well adapted to corn silage production because of drainage problems or low water-holding capacity.

Wet soils frequently delay planting and cause harvest problems. Delaying planting creates several potential problems: yield potential is decreased, crop maturity is often delayed, and conflicts arise between corn planting and forage crop harvesting. In this situation, either soil drainage or other crops should be considered if corn silage production is not economical. Larger machinery may also be needed to improve timeliness on these soils.

Where the soil water-holding capacity is low, on shallow or stony soils, or in areas that receive marginal rainfall, other crops may be better adapted than corn silage. Typical substitutes for corn silage in these situations include forage sorghum, grain sorghum, small grains, or other forage crops. Often, these crops may not produce a forage with the quality and/or yield of corn silage, but their establishment costs are lower and their yields may be less variable. To determine whether these alternative crops would be profitable, compare production costs against value of the silage.

Corn silage production may also be limited on erodible soils, unless you implement conservation measures such as reduced tillage, strip cropping, or the establishment of cover crops immediately after harvest.

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