Crop tour field trials shift focus to corn silage test plots

Dan Hansen
Mike Gronski, Pioneer Seeds field agronomist, provided producers with an overview of the 2022 corn silage field trial goals.

BIRNAMWOOD, Wis. – Over the past four years field trials in Central Wisconsin have focused on developing a variety of data primarily on grain corn. One year also included soybean plots.

This year, however, the trials — presented by Swiderski Equipment in conjunction with Pioneer Seeds, Massey Ferguson, New Holland, Precision Planting, Cropping Central Inc. and 360 Yield Center – focused on corn silage.

“Since 2018 we’ve been looking at variations in planter settings and the effect on crop emergence and yield potential on grain corn,” said Mike Gronski, field agronomist with Pioneer Seeds. “This year we decided to have more of a forage emphasis, as we’ve had dairy farmers asking us for hard numbers on corn silage.” 

Schairer Farms

Gronski and Cody Miller, Precision Planting specialist, considered Schairer Farms, located west of Birnamwood in Marathon County, an ideal location for the corn silage trials.

They worked with Cory Schairer, who’s in charge of cropping on the Century Farm that is owned and operated by him, his father, three brothers and a brother-in-law.

The family employs around a dozen Hispanic workers to milk their 1,300 Holsteins twice a day in a double-16 parlor. Crops are raised on 3,500 acres that are primarily sandy loam soil with good drainage, according to Schairer.

“We raise about 700 acres of corn silage, chop 1,300-1,500 acres of alfalfa, and we also raise 100 acres of soybeans and 100 acres of wheat,” Schairer noted. 

Specific trials

The 40-acre field on the Schairer farms was planted on May 24 at a rate of 33,000 per acre following an application of 9,000 gallons of manure. Trials were designed to gather data on the effects of planting depth and singulation, 

“We’re looking at the influence of varying amounts of force being put on the closing wheel as we try to close up that trench, and we have a down-force trial using delta force,” said Gronski. “We also have a nitrogen block where we applied different rates and different products that we had, along with some machine modeling of nitrogen simulation as far as loss and where we need to be.”

Miller noted the majority of the seed was planted 1.5 inches deep. In-field observations were made to evaluate emergence of the stand. “We did flagging at plant emergence once plants started poking out of the ground, trying to get a better handle on the quality before we actually do the field harvest. We’ll be looking at plants, kernel counts, digestibility,” he added.

Cody Miller, Precision Farming specialist, demonstrates T-handle adjustment on the corn planter.

Proper planting depth

During the recent producer field day, Miller stressed the importance of getting seeds down to the moisture line. Planting depths ranged from 1.5 to 3 inches in half-inch increments.

“If the soil has dried from spring tillage we might need to plant deeper to reach the moisture line,” he said. “Normally our goal is to be within 30% moisture. Generally you don’t want to be much shallower than 1.5 inches. In most cases 2 inches works best.” He also noted the Smart Firmer precision farming tool is able to measure the moisture level while moving.

“Verify that you are actually planting at the desired depth,” he stated. “If we think we’re at 2 inches and we’re actually at 1.25 or 1.5 inches that can make a big difference. With an 1.5 inch planting depth and 92 percent emergence, we’re losing about $125 an acre compared to a 2-inch planting depth.”

Proper moisture at planting also aids at harvest time, according to Miller. “If we can get even emergence and we don’t have late comers, it will help keep up starch levels, digestibility, quality and yield,” he said.

Planter down pressure

The correct planter down pressure is important because it helps keep air pockets from forming around the seed. “With an air pocket we don’t have that deep soil contact and the seeds aren’t going to germinate properly,” Miller explained.

Three different trials were conducted using Light down-force application at 50 pounds of margin, at a standard rate 100 pounds of margin, and a heavy rate at 150 pounds.

“With the light force there were no multiples and 11 skips, with standard down force there were zero multiples and six skips, and with the heavy down force pressure there were no multiples and only 3 skips,” Miller reported. “With the lighter soil and drier conditions, planting at 1.5 inches, the heavier down force got the seed down into a little more moisture,” he added.

Nitrogen application

“We did some nitrogen trials looking at some different products as different nitrogen sources and additives as well as different rates,” Miller related. “We had anywhere from 10 gallons up to 30 gallons and were using some nitrogen management software and looking at some biologicals as well.”

Gronski noted that several side-dress passes were made. "Our objective as we went through the year was to get more data and evaluate the different nitrogen trials, and evaluate yield and forage quality come harvest time.”

Part of the objective of this trial was to look at the overall yield, digestibility and starch content, according to Gronski. “We’ve got some great trials with planting depth as it relates to tonnage and feed quality.”

Complete information on the corn silage field trials will be available at the crop tour wrap-up in December.