Plan to Grow: Growing High-Quality Corn Silage

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Planning for your high-quality silage crop includes taking a close look at soil health and nitrogen management, according to Joe Lawrence, dairy forage systems specialist at Cornell University.

Nitrogen availability and mobility —Compacted soils affect the microbes that work to convert the nitrogen to the plant-available forms. It can also impact the potential for denitrification in water-logged soils. Having healthy soil with the proper ratio of pore spaces with air, as well as water that can drain properly when it rains, provides an environment for the microbes to convert the nitrogen and limit denitrification.

Organic matter and manure — These provide a slow release of nitrogen, like an IV drip. Instead of applying nitrogen that’s available all at once in the form of fertilizer, organic matter and manure keep nitrogen in a stable form prior to conversion to a plant-available form by microbes. This allows for the release of nitrogen at different times throughout the season when plants can utilize it.

Fertilizer applications — The recommendation in the Northeast is to apply a small amount of nitrogen as a starter fertilizer at planting. Then, if needed, come back with a side-dress application. Applying all the nitrogen at planting is discouraged due to the potential for leaching losses. Nitrogen stabilizer products should also be considered to reduce losses to the environment.

Nitrogen deficiency — A crop that is nitrogen-deficient can reduce yield and quality. It can reduce protein content and may limit ear size, negatively affecting starch content.

Excess nitrogen — Nitrogen that’s not taken up by the plant is susceptible to leaching losses during the fall and winter, offering motivation to be more precise with applications. Also consider planting cover crops as a way to protect soils and store excess nutrients over the winter. Excesses in the plant tend to delay maturity and harvest.

What is Tar Spot?

  • New corn fungal disease first identified in 2015
  • Yield limiting in 2018 in the Midwest
  • Survives in soil and on corn residue
  • Carried by the wind
  • Scout weekly
Tar Spot
Photo courtesy of Martin Chilvers, Michigan State University

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