CORN SILAGE is no longer grown as an afterthought. Today's more complex hybrids offer a wider variety of traits to fit most combinations of cropping and feeding needs. They also require a higher degree of planning and management, similar to that of their conventional counterparts, in order to maximize their yield potential.

Seed companies have been paying more attention to increasing the digestibility of the stover, as well as the starch in the kernels, all while pushing yields upward. “There has been a real divergence in the last few years in the approaches to breeding silage hybrids,” says University of Wisconsin agronomist Joe Lauer. “While overall yields of the dual-purpose hybrids have increased, the stover digestibility of them can vary widely. In terms of yield, we've seen a range of as much as 8,000 lbs. of milk per acre between them. That's why more work has been done in the last few years to isolate those hybrids with the best digestible fiber levels.”

Focus on fiber

You can expect to see further improvement in that fiber digestibility in new hybrids for 2005, says Gene Gengelbach, forage products manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred. The company will introduce several new numbers this year, although details had not been finalized by press time. “These qualities will be great additions to our hybrids, just like herbicide- and insect-resistant traits were in the last few years,” Gengelbach says. “But the real value is in getting a hybrid with a total trait package, and that's where we've gotten to now with silage hybrids.

“We're still trying to improve on our existing pest resistance and nudging up yields, but we've gotten to the point where we now have really stable products,” he continues. “They can consistently perform very well, when managed properly.”

Lauer says the key to making the right hybrid selection is to first determine your objectives. “If you're looking to maximize your crop from a milk-per-acre standpoint and get the most from your land base, then a dual-purpose hybrid is currently the way to go,” he says.

But that doesn't mean you should discount numbers with lower grain yields. “It just depends on your ration needs,” Lauer says.

Because the focus on stover refinement is fairly recent, producers will likely see some fast gains in fiber digestibility in the next few years, he says.

What's new

The number of silage hybrids increases each year, and 2005 will be no exception. In fact, you can expect a bumper crop of new numbers from which to choose. Here's a quick look at some of what's new for this coming season.

  • Dairyland Seed adds a new 86-day hybrid to its existing forage products. HiDF 3086 scores at the top of the overall silage rating, with a 1 for silage yield as well as for milk per acre and milk per ton. Its medium-to-tall field presence has a showy upright leaf configuration and excellent test weight. For more information, visit www.dairylandseed.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 221.

  • ExSeed Genetics has seven new corn silage products available in its NutriDense family for 2005. Ranging from 94- to 112-day maturities, they offer higher levels of oil, protein and amino acids than previous hybrids did, along with weed and insect control traits, including YieldGard corn borer and Roundup Ready. The company claims these improvements translate to greater silage tonnage, increased milk per ton, and reduced acid detergent fiber (ADF), neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and lignin content. For more information, visit www.exseed.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 222.

  • Mycogen adds eight new TMF Silage-Specific hybrids to its hybrid line. They feature high NDF digestibility ratings, for increased dry matter intake and milk production. With maturity levels ranging from 88 to 116 days, the new hybrids have a variety of trait technologies, including Herculex I insect protection, LibertyLink and Roundup Ready. The company also adds a new number to its FullTime Forage line, which produces a moderately tall plant type with a high NDF digestibility rating. For more information, visit www.dowagro.com./mycogen or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 223.

  • Trelay has six new silage hybrids this year, ranging in maturity from 90 to 113 days. With girthy ears, high grain quality and solid plant health, these new numbers all provide strong yields. For more information, visit www.trelay.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 224.

  • Both Pioneer and Garst are introducing new hybrids this spring, but specifics were not available at press time. For more information, visit their Web sites at www.pioneer.com and www.garstseed.com.