Every day more and more state farmers have to make the decision on what to do with their corn crop and when to do it. The situation is different from last year when early planting in March saw the plants suffer from drought early on only to be somewhat rescued by some timely July rains for pollination. Even that was a challenge though because the early planted corn meant the pollination dates were off so some of the rains came late.
This year the early planted corn looks the best while much of the later planted corn (June and July) is under real stress. That, according to UW-Extension Corn Specialist, Joe Lauer, is stressing farmers too, because they’re looking at severely reduced yields, “if that corn is lucky enough to make grain,” he told farmers at a recent field day in Western Wisconsin. For every day planting is delayed from the ideal May 15 to the 20th planting window, yield losses amount to about 2 to 3% a day for each day of delay, so “farmers are getting hit with lost gain yields right off the bat with late planting dates and even if conditions were ideal during the rest of the season, you can never, ever recover all that yield with these late planting dates.”
Lauer told the farmers that the early planted fields should be ok for grain if we have normal killing frost dates. He told the group that, ”if it’s dented, there is still 25 to 40% of the yield to be made in September so any fields at that stage should be in good shape.” It’s the later planted corn that Lauer said they need to focus on right now Fields that are still in the milk or dough stage are “the ones to target for corn silage”, Lauer said.
The best thing farmers can do is decide what to do if we do get an early frost. He said they should line up their fields for harvest going from the most mature to the least mature. That way they are ready for the custom harvesters who are going to be in a time crunch this year with the cropping situation across the state as they go from corn silage to high moisture corn and snaplage.
Most likely the best fields to come off as corn silage will be the approximately 30% of the fields that were planted in June because Lauer said, “they will be the lowest yielding, the wettest and very expensive to try to get to a grain harvest.”
At this stage the most important factor in the equation, Lauer said is not grain yield but whole plant moisture. “It has to go up at the right moisture for the structure used so we get proper fermentation and good quality feed,” Lauer told the group. For that he said the late planted fields are the best candidates.
He also told the farmers not to panic about now and put the crop up too wet. He urged them to read the plants. Just because the plants are brown and some of the lower leaves are brown and dying doesn’t mean the plant is ready to chop. In many cases, he pointed out, that plant is still putting on yield. Lauer told the farmers to check the ear leaf. “If that leaf is still green or partially green, that plant is still producing grain yield,” Lauer explained. In fact, he told the farmers that leaf alone accounts for between 50 and 60% of the grain yield of that plant. He also told them to check the leaves directly above and below the ear leaf. “Those leaves, he said, account for about another 30% of grain yield, so while parts of the plant may be brown, it could still produce a lot of grain if left alone.” Saying that he again emphasized that at this point, whole plant moisture is more of a factor in determining harvest that grain yield for putting the crop up as corn silage.
Another unusual occurrence this year will be cash corn farmers who have to make some unusual decisions regarding their crops since it won’t all make grain as some farmers planted late just to keep crop rotations in sync. That means putting some of it up as silage corn, high moisture or even snaplage. That means working out agreements with livestock producers who can use that feed this winter. Lauer said for sellers, they have to figure “their lost grain yield, the value of their fertilizer and stover while potential buyers can either but those fields or buy grain on the open market and supplement it with cheaper by-products like straw for their rations.” In those negotiations, both sides have to also consider the milk and/or beef price, the yield of the field, the grain price and the starch content of the crop. To do that Lauer said the UW-Extension Service has put together a simple work sheet to figure out the variables to put in the equation so both buyer and seller can put a price range on the crop and hopefully come to a satisfactory agreement.