Published on Monday, March 2, 2020
Farmers understand that planting top-quality grain corn hybrids and soybean varieties is key to the overall success of an operation. The same can be said for forage crops. At Beck’s, we understand that if you’re growing corn silage and alfalfa, you are analyzing genetics and management practices just like you would for grain corn and soybeans. That is why we spend a lot of time evaluating both our silage hybrids and alfalfa varieties for their strongest attributes and how they can make your operation more profi table. Here are the top three management strategies that we recommend for both corn silage and alfalfa producers.
DETERMINE YOUR TOP SILAGE PRIORITY, AND THEN CHOOSE HYBRIDS ACCORDINGLY.
Unfortunately, there is no “perfect” silage hybrid that can maximize both quality and tonnage. One hybrid may excel with high tonnage because of its agronomic versatility, while another hybrid will consistently excel in its quality characteristics such as fiber and starch digestibility. First, you need to determine your top priorities. For dairymen, this may be fiber digestibility, but for beef operations, it may be all about tonnage or starch content. Knowing your priorities and developing a plan around them is critical to the success of your operation for the following 12 months. It’s important to understand how the hybrid characteristics will affect your overall silage to haylage feeding ratios or whatever other feed sources you may be using. Additionally, be careful when choosing the appropriate hybrid to ensure that it also fits into your operation from an agronomic perspective based upon soil types, fertility management, planting population, etc.
MAXIMIZE BOTH QUALITY AND TONNAGE WITH A BALANCED FERTILITY PROGRAM.
Like maximizing grain production, a profitable silage crop relies on a wellmanaged fertility program; however, there are a few key differences with a silage crop versus a grain corn crop. A corn silage crop removes a tremendous amount of primary and secondary nutrients such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium. All of these nutrients are key components in the stover of a corn plant. For instance, a silage crop removes almost five times more K2O potassium than a comparable grain corn crop. One must account for large removal quantities to avoid depleting these nutrients in the soil. Efficient nitrogen management is also critical in a silage crop. Too little nitrogen for the crop results in lower protein levels in the feed; however, excessive nitrogen applications can result in high nitrate levels in the ensiled product, leading to livestock health risks. Apply nitrogen based on the ideal grain yield, but also account for nitrogen from manure applications so as to not over-apply.
MANAGE DISEASE TO MAXIMIZE YIELD AND ENSURE PROPER PLANT MOISTURE AT HARVEST.
Maximizing plant health maximizes yield in any crop; however, forages take this one step further because plant health has a direct effect on overall plant moisture. In most cases, harvesting corn silage with a whole plant moisture of 65 to 70% allows the crop to ferment and then feed properly throughout the year. Beck’s Practical Farm Research (PFR)® has shown that an R1 fungicide treatment maximizes grain yield. This also holds true for maximizing silage yield and quality, since 60% of silage dry matter yield is the grain portion of the plant. An R1 fungicide treatment will also provide the most protection to the whole plant, resulting in increased plant health and, therefore, improved moisture content at harvest.
CHOOSE THE CORRECT VARIETY FOR YOUR MANAGEMENT PRACTICES.
As with corn silage hybrids, choosing the correct alfalfa variety is vital; however, with alfalfa the quality components are determined by proper management and harvesting schedules more so than genetics. Choosing the correct variety for each farm helps us manage the diseases relevant to that farm and maximize tonnage. It wasn’t long ago that we didn’t have many choices in alfalfa variety beyond selecting for disease tolerance and genetic characteristics. Now, we can choose if we would also like to utilize biotech traits such as Roundup Ready® technology and quality traits such as HarvXtra® technology. First and foremost, when choosing an alfalfa variety, make sure to pick varieties with the proper disease ratings and genetic yield potential. Do not base your selection solely on the bio-tech traits a variety may or may not have.
MANAGE FERTILITY — ALFALFA IS NOT CORN!
Just because a field can grow a highyielding corn crop does not mean it will grow high-yielding alfalfa. The key nutrients to focus on in alfalfa production are potassium, sulfur, and boron. Soil pH levels of 6.5 to 7.0 are also critical to maximize the yield of an alfalfa crop. If your soil pH levels need to be adjusted prior to planting an alfalfa crop, be sure to apply the correct type of lime based on soil cation levels and to apply the lime at least 12 months in advance. Liming close to planting can result in stunted stands. An 8 ton (DM) alfalfa crop removes approximately: 392 lb. of K2O 43 lb. of Sulfur 0.5 lb. of Boron *International Plant Nutrition Institute
OPTIMIZE QUALITY THROUGH PROPER HARVEST TIMING.
The big challenge with alfalfa is that we can do everything right, but, if we harvest incorrectly, the crop fails. As with corn for silage, net quality is is directly a function of harvest conditions and the ensiling process; this is what the nutritionist must then man manage for the next months, possibly making or breaking our farm profitability. While there are differences between varieties regarding their quality components, most of the quality will be determined by harvesting at the proper growth stage: mid-bud (Figure 1).
Remember that the primary benefit of growing alfalfa is for the protein content, and the protein levels and tonnage are both maximized at the mid-bud stage.
Successful silage crops depend upon careful planning, seed selection, fertility management, and harvest timing. If you have questions about how Beck's genetics can fill your bunk, reach out to your local Beck's representative.
Author: Ben Puestow
Categories: CropTalk, 2020
Tags: CropTalk, corn, Fertility, alfalfa, Silage