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Harvesting and storing drought-stressed corn

Improving the quality and profitability of drought-stressed corn silage

The 2012 drought in the US was the worst in more than 50 years. Southern Europe, Russia, China and Ukraine were also suffering from intense heat and lack of rain. The situation called for agricultural salvage management.

Drought-stressed corn can be a good source of high quality silage. The trick is to manage it carefully – from harvest to packing and storage. Here is a quick guide to ensuring high feed values and profit from drought-stressed corn silage. Feel free to contact us for additional guidance and help.

1. Closely monitor plant moisture content

Standing drought-stressed corn can be deceptive. Even if it looks dry and dead, it can contain over 70% moisture. Start testing moisture levels 2-3 weeks prior to harvest. You want the dry matter at cutting to be between 30-38%, depending on the type of storage. Once the plant dies, it can dry down quickly, so be prepared to harvest fast. Tip: SILOSOLVE® AS can minimize problems during feedout when dry matter exceeds 38%.

2. Be aware of varying levels of crop stress, moisture and nutrient content

Varying soil type and conditions create variable crop stress, moisture and nutrient content within one field. You want to continuously test for moisture during harvesting. During feedout, increase nutritional testing so you can make adjustments for variability and reduce the risk of feedout problems. Tip: We recommend SILOSOLVE® AS to accelerate fermentation over a broad range of moisture levels and improve aerobic stability during feedout.

3. Pack, pack and pack again!

Drought stressed corn silage packs like grass or cereal silage. To increase the packing density, additional weight and time with the packing tractor may be needed. Tip: Consider using BIOMAX® 5 for rapid fermentation to quickly lower the pH level and decrease residual plant cell respiration caused by the presence of oxygen.

4. Test nitrate levels

Drought-stressed corn is often high in nitrates. Nitrates tend to accumulate in the lower stalk, so cutting at 12-15 inches can decrease nitrate in the silage. But this might not be practical because it will reduce your tonnage. Note that nitrates levels can spike after rain, so it is best to wait three to five days after rain before you start harvesting the crop. Silage fermentation can reduce nitrate levels by 20-50%. Allow at least 4 weeks post ensiling for nitrate levels to fall before feeding. Test silage for nitrates prior to feeding and periodically during feeding to assure nitrate levels are below detrimental levels. Tip: BIOMAX® 5 will promote a rapid fermentation which helps convert nitrates to a safe form.

5. Be aware of dangerous silo gas

Silo gas is always a concern with corn silage and increases with higher nitrate levels in drought stressed corn. Nitrates can turn into nitrous dioxide, an extremely toxic gas. Even brief exposure to silo gas may cause permanent injury or death. Proceed with extreme caution if you notice a faint, brown-tinted low hanging gas, stained forage or a bleach-like odor. If you detect any of these signs, leave the area immediately.

6. Look for signs of Mycotoxin in the field

Drought stressed corn is particularly vulnerable to mold and/or yeast spore invasion into the ear. This typically takes place when corn pollinates under drought stress and high heat. Tip: Apply SILOSOLVE® MC to inhibit the further growth of molds and yeasts in the silage.

7. Monitor closely even if crop conditions improve

Severe drought stress causing abnormal plant and ear development requires careful management even if more normal rainfall returns later in the season. Mycotoxin threats may actually increase. Expect the crop to have lower starch, higher but more digestible fiber, and elevated plant sugars. BIOMAX® 5 and SILOSOLVE® MC efficiently use soluble sugars to rapidly drive fermentation to low terminal pH, ideally <4.0. helping you get the most feeding value from every ton of silage harvested.

8. Don’t underestimate the value of drought-stressed corn

Although grain content may be low or not present, drought-stressed corn silage can have up to 75-90% the nutritional value of normal corn silage. Tip: Ask your nutritionist for advice on feeding with drought-stressed corn silage.

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