The corn crop in North Dakota and surrounding states is as variable as the recent weather, and the encroaching drought has taken its toll on some fields.
Poor corn pollination can be caused by numerous factors, including drought, hail, frost, corn rootworm silk feeding and foliar diseases. As a result, some corn is poorly pollinated and will yield limited or no grain.
Often, cattle operations can use poorly pollinated corn, although pollination success influences corn forage quality.
Corn has two peaks in forage quality: at pollination and at harvest maturity.
Forage quality, as measured by milk per ton, is high during vegetative phases prior to flowering. As with all forages, corn quality decreases after flowering.
However, unlike other forages, corn silage quality improves beginning around stage R3.
The early peak in forage quality at pollination is high, but the corn is too wet for ensiling. The later peak is more familiar and is the one we typically manage for when producing corn silage because it maximizes biomass yield and quality.
In general, if some kernels are developing, wait to harvest. But if the plant is barren, then harvest at any time.
The first quality peak occurs around flowering and will continue if pollination is unsuccessful. While not useful for corn grain production, drought-stressed corn has good feed implications because it contains increased sugar content, higher crude protein, higher crude fiber and more digestible fiber than normal corn silage. Drought generally reduces yield and grain content, resulting in increased fiber content, and this often is accompanied by lower lignin production that increases fiber digestibility.
Be sure to check with your crop insurance agent before harvesting and follow his or her instructions for collecting adjustments. You cannot graze an insured crop or chop it for forage or silage without first receiving permission from your crop insurance agent or you will forfeit indemnities. Also, make sure no herbicide restrictions affect the forage for livestock feeding.
Remember, you do not have to use the forage yourself; you can sell it to someone else who needs it.
The harvesting challenge is that green, barren stalks will contain 75 to 90 percent water. If the weather remains hot and dry, the corn's moisture content drops, but if rain occurs before plants lose their green color, they can remain green until frost.
The proper harvest moisture content depends upon the structure in which you plan to store the crop, but the moisture content is the same for drought-stressed and normal corn. Harvesting should be done at the moisture content that ensures good preservation and storage: 65 to 70 percent if storing the corn in horizontal silos (trenches, bunkers, bags), 60 to 65 percent if storing in upright stave silos and 55 to 65 percent if storing in upright oxygen-limiting silos.