Managing your Corn Silage Crop on a Budget

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The first step to managing your crop costs is to look at an Enterprise Budget to determine your current costs. The “Penn State Agronomy Guide” has budgets for corn silage, corn after corn and corn after soybeans.

Be Careful Cutting Seed Costs

Hybrid selection is the single biggest factor you can control. It can have a yield swing of 70 bu. per acre or 12,000 lb. of milk per acre (silage). Farmers need to determine if yields can be maintained while lowering seed costs. Potential avenues for lowering seed costs include lowering seeding rates, switching genetics and opting for fewer traits. We often don’t have insect pressures that require control of all the aboveground pests (black cutworm, corn earworm, European corn borer, fall armyworm, stalk borer, western bean cutworm), but corn rootworms are more of a concern for corn on corn acres that don’t get rotated with another crop like soybeans or alfalfa. Herbicide tolerance is an individual decision, but if you do spend the money for herbicide tolerance, you better plan on using that herbicide in your spray program. A $325 bag of seed compared to a $200 bag of seed corn with a 32,000 seed drop = $80 per acre for the $200 bag and $128 for the $325 bag. That’s a saving of $48 per acre; it will take about 12 bu. at $4/bu. to offset that cost, or over an additional ton of corn silage per acre. Depending on what plant population you have been planting, you may be able to lower your plant population by a couple thousand seeds per acre and save a few bucks.

Soil Test

Use a current soil test to determine your fertilizer needs. You can’t manage every field the same; they will likely have different manure histories and yield potential. If P and K values are in the optimum range, it is likely that adding additional P and K fertilizer will not increase yields this year. Calculate N-P-K contributions from manure applications. Don’t forget about nitrogen credits from previous years’ manure applications. Rather than applying all your nitrogen at planting, why not wait until the corn is about knee-high (V6) and test with a pre-sidedress soil nitrate test for corn to determine if additional nitrogen is needed.


Keeping the soil pH in the optimum range is important. Corn can tolerate a pH as low as 6.0, but alfalfa fields should not be lower than 6.5. For fields with a low pH, given the choice of whether to buy fertilizer or buy lime, first apply at least some of the lime that is recommended.

Starter fertilizer is another input that often does not pay back, especially on a dairy farm with high P levels and when planting into soils that are warm.

Spray Your Own Crops

If you already own a sprayer and can get it done in a timely manner, you can save money by spraying crops yourself. This allows you to shop around for pesticides and also UAN, if you use that as a nitrogen source. That $10 to $12 application fee adds up if you spray a few hundred acres.


Weeds can have the biggest impact on yield, followed by insects and lastly, diseases. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the best way to determine if a pesticide application is necessary and economical.

Crop Insurance

It may be past the deadline, but don’t eliminate crop insurance. Consider the options. Talk with your agent to get a program that fits your operation.

Impact of Corn Management Decisions on Yield

  • Weather: It’s the biggest factor, but you can’t change it (70+ bu. variation)
  • Hybrid selection: It can have a yield swing of 70 bu. or 12,000 lb. of milk per acre (silage). This is the largest variable you have control over.
  • Crop rotation: It can increase yield from 10% to 19% (corn after corn will have a yield drag)
  • Seed treatment: It decreases death loss to 5% to 10%
  • Soil fertility: It can decrease yield by 20% to 50%
  • Plant population: 0% to 22%, 24,000 would be the lower threshold
  • Pest control: Timeliness is everything: first, weeds; second, insects; third, diseases
  • Harvest: You can have up to a 20% loss potential due to late harvest

Original article written can be viewed here.

Anfrew Frankenfield
Andrew Frankenfield, Extension Educator, Agronomy

Headline image courtesy of Pennsylvania State University


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