Crop on the chopping block: Will corn be grain or silage?
It’s still the middle of July, and already cornfields are being chopped for silage.
Corn seed supplier Terry Vinduska of Marion has been walking cornfields recently and is seeing things he’s never seen before.
When plants tassell, pollen falls to silks atop ears. Each strand of silk is connected to one kernel.
This year, silking has been delayed in some fields from lack of moisture, so pollen just falls to the ground and corn kernels don’t develop, Vinduska said.
Also, when it’s extremely hot, silks — which are 98 percent water — start to die. When a strand dies, the kernel it is attached to doesn’t develop or only partially develops.
Vinduska said most farmers plant hybrids that are bred to be drought-tolerant, which means they have an aggressive root system to capture moisture. Leaves tend to roll up to conserve moisture. Those hybrids don’t have the same yield potential as non-drought-tolerant hybrids but usually work better in central Kansas.
Non-drought-tolerant hybrids work best in irrigated fields or creek and river bottoms, where soil is deep.
Corn planted into no-till fields appears to be doing better than corn planted into deep-tilled soils, Vinduska said. He speculated that working the soil before planting destroyed what moisture there was, and with lack of rain, the crop couldn’t develop normally.
Even if corn has good pollination, lack of moisture will keep kernels from developing or leave them small.
Lack of moisture has been a bigger factor than planting time, Vinduska said. Usually, earlier planted corn with a shorter maturity time will do better. It pollinates around July 4, before intense heat sets in. But this year, drought in early spring and summer has kept a lot of fields from developing normally.
Vinduska usually can make a good guess on how much a cornfield may yield by counting kernels on several samples of ears throughout the field. He said 90,000 fully-developed kernels would yield one bushel, but this year it will take more kernels to make that because so many kernels are small.
Some plants have no ears at all, so those fields have no potential for a crop. Others may yield 30 to 40 bushels per acre. Even if kernels are two-thirds their normal size, the field still can yield 80 to 90 bushels.
“Yields of 80 to 90 bushels will be rare this year,” Vinduska said, “but some fields around Marion and south could make 100.”
Another challenge is knowing what to do with drought-stressed corn. When it develops in drought, corn can be high in nitrates, so baling and feeding it to cattle could kill them, he said. Mixing it with hay would make it safer.
The best choice is to chop it for silage, which removes 50 percent of the nitrates. Area forage harvesters reportedly are already extremely busy chopping corn and can’t keep up with demand. They are bringing in crews from other areas to speed the process.
“A lot of corn is ready to go now or will need to be chopped in the next few days. With a two-inch rain, some fields still would produce a decent grain crop,” Vinduska said.
Farmers needing more silage could purchase corn from others who don’t have cattle but it is expensive, Vinduska said. They would have to pay for chopping and hauling the feed.
“It’s a challenging time for farmers,” he said.
Last modified July 19, 2018