Caution advised for 2017 crop selections

Ray Mueller

CHILTON – With the prospects of tight margins for the sale of crops to be grown in 2017, it would behoove farmers to reduce the risks that could affect their yields.

That was the advice from to customers of Latham Hi-Tech Seeds from the company's forage products manager Corey Catt at a winter information meeting sponsored by area sales manager Adam Faust. Catt noted that many bankers are wary about the cropping decisions being made this year by farmers who have loans from them.

Corey Catt

Corn hybrid review

To alleviate some of that concern with the corn that growers intend to sell, either for grain or silage, Catt suggested selecting dual purpose hybrids because they are better suited for cope with the unpredictability of weather and other growing season risks such as soil type and fertility.

Catt referred to a corn agronomist's research which identified six factors that account for differences in corn yield. Weather accounts for 27 percent of that variance, nitrogen availability for 26 percent, corn hybrid for 19 percent, the previous crop for 10 percent, plant population for 8 percent, tillage method for 8 percent and use of growth regulator for 6 percent, he indicated.

Corn silage tips

Particularly with corn grown for silage, the goals are a balance of quality and tonnage, 50/50 portions of grain and stover, and 50 percent non-fat carbohydrates, Catt stated. For growers who are willing to overlook those criteria for the sake of higher digestibility of the fiber in corn silage, he agreed that the specialty brown mid-rib and leafy hybrids can be an appropriate choice.

While noting that Latham sells a lot of leafy corn hybrid seed, Catt also cautioned that both the leafy and brown mid-rib are not current on beneficial genetic updates. With the specialty leafy hybrids, he said that per acre plant populations of 28,000 to 30,000 are adequate because of the large size and number of leaves that grow above the ears.

A special concern with brown mid-rib corn hybrids is the hardness of the kernels, thereby reducing the digestibility of their starch, Catt indicated. For that reason, he suggested that brown mid-rib hybrid silage would be a good choice for heifer feed. Meanwhile, the soft kernels in leafy hybrids improve the starch digestibility, he added.

Cross pollination concerns

A related concern with brown mid-rib is that its pollen will lead to harder kernels on all or a portion of the cob in cross-pollinated corn, Catt pointed out. For that reason, growers should be aware of what's being grown across the fence line on their own farm or that of a neighbor, or if possible, vary the maturity or planting times so it will be less likely that cross pollination can occur.

Catt invited corn growers to carry the pocket light test with the kernels of corn that they grow. He explained that the more light that shines through the better the starch in it is available for digestion by livestock.

When kernels, for which Catt advises large size, are in corn silage, the ideal for making their starch the most available for digestion is 244 days of fermentation. An alternative is to be sure that the kernels were well processed (broken) when the silage was chopped.

What's on the horizon

Because of their value for livestock and poultry nutrition, amino acids such as methionine and lysine are gaining attention in the development of new corn hybrids, Catt reported. He noted that they occur naturally in grains but the goal is to boost their presence in corn grain by 20 percent.

Two reasons for seeking a higher level of amino acids are to provide layer hens with feed that would result in eggs with the more golden yoke that consumers prefer and to improve the efficiency of ethanol production, Catt pointed out. He said the physical evidence of higher amino acids is a rich bronze color of the corn kernels. He said merely a one-third presence of that special trait in corn seed would be sufficient.

Micro-nutrient attention

Some of the 14 nutrients for growing corn beyond nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are also receiving extra attention, Catt announced. He mentioned the need for sulfur in Wisconsin because of the reduction of what had previously been supplied by emissions from coal-fired electric power plants.

Where Roundup herbicide is used to control weeds, one of the consequences is a tying up of the available manganese, thereby interrupting its flow to corn and soybean plants. For that reason, there could be a need to supplement manganese, he advised.

The approval of dicamba as a herbicide for soybeans with a tolerance for it, not yet the case for corn, also creates a potential risk, Catt observed. Especially in cool and wet growing conditions, the results could be a reduced metabolizing of essential plant nutrients, an increase of lignin in the plants and more vulnerability to a green snap incident in corn fields, he warned.

Fields of technology

While Latham Hi-Tech Seeds is an independent company based at Alexander, IA, it obtains proven technology traits for its corn, soybean, and alfalfa from the major seed companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, BASF and Bayer CropScience. Most of those technologies pertain to control of insects and tolerance for certain herbicides.

A recent technology innovation is the Artesian drought tolerance trait in corn, Catt announced. It reduces a corn plant's typical requirement of 35 to 40 gallons of water during the growing season and also improves nitrogen uptake, he said.

HarvXtra alfalfa

Latham has also acquired sales rights to the reduced lignin HarvXtra alfalfa with the Roundup Ready herbicide tolerance trait which Catt described as “the Harvard of alfalfa.” As the lower lignin version which was developed as a genetically modified organism, it has a consistency that is not the case with the low lignin variety that was created through natural breeding, he stated.

“I've been watching it for years at West Salem, WI,” Catt remarked. “It's not for everybody but everybody should look at it.”

That's true despite the $590 per bag cost for seed — in part because the cost can be amortized over four crop years, Catt observed. With an ideal cutting window of up to 35 days without sacrificing forage quality compared to 28 to 30 days for conventional alfalfa, he pointed out that growers can well consider one less cutting per year — thereby saving about $50 per acre on harvesting costs alone.

With several extra days of growth, not only is there an excellent chance for yield increases per cutting along with the exposure to sunlight that enhances nutrients in the alfalfa, Catt remarked. Consider the purchase price of the seed “an investment, not a cost,” he advised.

Lower lignin alfalfa's distinction involves a 12 to 15 percent (not percentage points) reduction in the lignin, which is a fibrous material that is digested poorly in the rumen of dairy cows, Catt pointed out. Every one percentage point reduction in the lignin content can convert to two more pounds of milk per day per cow, he indicated.

Alfalfa lineup

In its selection of alfalfa varieties, Latham offers choices with large branch roots that are suitable for wet soils, others with strong resistance to aphanomyces, one which provides a very high quality forage, and even one suitable for salty soils. Catt reported that coping with aphanomyces is a continuing challenge because new races of the disease are appearing.

Alfalfa growers also need to aware of the dire allelopathic effects that preceding grass species crops can have, Catt indicated. They include ryegrass, brome grass and wheat.

Catt also reminded alfalfa growers to be aware of the portions of pure seed that they have in their purchases and of the differences that seed treatments can have in the percentage of seeds that become live plants. He noted Latham's package of seed treatment leads to about a 65 percent rate of live plants while non-treated seed results in only about a 35 percent rate.