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High feed costs increase need for high-quality corn silage

With today's high feed costs, silage management can have a significant impact on a producer's bottom line. That's why Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, recommends growers pay attention to hybrid selection, field conditions and harvest timing/management to help make the most of their silage crops.

"It always comes down to good management," says Steve Soderlund, Pioneer nutritionist and key livestock account manager. "Decisions made throughout the growing season can affect silage success and a producer's ability to be more profitable."

Soderlund says, when it's seed selection time, growers should look for hybrids that not only provide good yield but also above average fiber digestibility and good grain (starch) content. In addition, growers should consider planting hybrids of varying maturities to help accommodate harvest timing and ensure adequate moisture throughout harvest.

"If we can't grow it, it doesn't matter what the feed value is," Soderlund says. "That's the foundation we need to be working from."

Once hybrids are in the ground and growing, as they are now, it's critical to know the state of individual fields and individual hybrid maturities so growers can target harvest dates.

"Working with your agronomist and nutritionist to figure out what quality you're shooting for, as well as yield, is key," Soderlund says.

As growers near their anticipated harvest date, they should walk their fields to evaluate how the crop is progressing. Harvest timing can be affected by many factors beyond just weather conditions, including soil fertility, weed control and pest management. These factors can influence whole plant moisture content and drydown rates.

Harvest timing is critical to producing high-quality corn silage that delivers optimal performance for livestock. Soderlund says moisture and maturity are the two key harvest considerations.

"Typically, we like to see corn silage put up in the 63 to 68 percent moisture range," Soderlund says. "Generally, the kernel milkline will be half to three-quarters at this moisture range. However, growers should keep in mind that milkline is not always a good indicator in some hybrids, so overall moisture is still the best measurement."

Accurately determining whole plant moisture is important because harvesting corn for silage too early (high moisture content) or too late (low moisture content) can affect forage yield, quality and silage fermentation.

According to Soderlund, some growers push the maturity window and may pick up more wet tons, but reduce their quality because the starch doesn't have time to fill in.

"It's amazing how much starch accumulation we see between early dent and three-quarters milkline, We will typically see a 1 percent point increase in starch content for every 1 percent increase in dry matter content during this stage of development."

Adequate kernel processing is important for optimal silage digestibility. Soderlund recommends setting the kernel processor at 3 mm to start out and make adjustments if necessary throughout harvest. "Ideally, we would like to see all kernels fractured and no cob pieces larger than your thumbnail."

Soderlund says there are several high-quality products on the market designed for specific needs, whether that's enhanced fermentation efficiency, reduced dry matter losses, improved aerobic stability or bunklife, improved fiber digestibility, etc.

In addition, many growers are now using need-specific inoculants in different parts of the bunker or silo or using multiple silos so they can address specific management and timing considerations.

Finally, covering is critical. Too often growers wait until the silo is completely full before covering. That two- or three-day delay, especially if there is rain in between, will lead to some spoilage loss on top. Those losses can affect the bottom line, so anything that can be done to minimize losses is crucial in a time of high feed costs.

"Reducing shrink or managing the face of the bunker, keeping loose material cleaned up and getting the cover on as quickly as possible - those things are all going to pay dividends this year," Soderlund says.

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