Corn and soybean producers who haven't been able to get crops planted, because of all the rain this spring, may want to consider planting for silage.

This may be a good option for farmers who can feed or sell the forage, says agronomist Denise McWilliams of the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

For corn, a hybrid selected for normal grain maturity generally is the best choice for silage, green chop or grazing, says McWilliams. Silage hybrids usually are five days later in maturity than hybrids grown for grain. The best time to harvest corn for silage is when the grain is in the late dough stage, McWilliams points out.

Soybeans also are an option for hay or pasture. "Ensiled or fed green, the soybean is one of the few annual legumes suitable for hay, although it is usually fed with other kinds of hay," says McWilliams.

She cites a Wisconsin study showing that row spacing, planting rate and variety have little effect on fiber or protein levels in the forage. In the study, harvest maturity was the main factor in fiber and protein levels. In terms of feeding, animals were less inclined to eat older, coarser, more mature stems.

In Canada studies, soybean forage harvested between R6 and R7 (when leaves begin to turn yellow but before they fall off the plant) was comparable to alfalfa harvested at early bloom stage for protein and fiber content.

"Soybean forage harvested at the R7 stage should be limited to no more than 50% of the total dry matter in the ration," says McWilliams. "Soybean silage mixed with corn silage shows little difference in value to straight corn silage. Mixing two to three parts corn silage and one part soybean silage makes a well-balanced silage that keeps well and is readily eaten by cattle."

On both silages, make sure no mold growth occurs, including white mold on soybean plants in the field prior to cutting, says McWilliams. Also, check herbicides and be sure to use only those that have no restrictions on timed application intervals prior to harvest as feed.

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