Thursday, September 6, 2018

Handling Flooded and Down Corn at Silage and Grain Harvest



Rain events during August produced localized flooding affecting numerous corn fields. Recent high winds combined with saturated soils have resulted in lodged corn. All this is occurring at the dent growth stage (R5) as we head into corn silage harvest season. Heavy silage harvest equipment can further damage soils by causing compaction which could influence next year's crop.

Flooded corn

Flood water from streams and silt can be a source of pathogens. Flooded corn grain is "adulterated" grain. Farmers are strongly encouraged to work closely with their veterinarian and animal nutritionist when determining which vaccination and feeding protocol to use to further protect the herd from possible health issues associated with feeding flooded crop material. Flooded crops should be stored separately from the rest of your feed. In cases of production problems, this allows for feeding or disposal options without affecting your good feed.

Lodged corn

Fields that have lodged at denting (R5) might "goose-neck" back upright if they are still green. However, high yielding heavy ears may prevent the stalks from straightening at all. Fields should respond to any straightening within 7-10 days

Silage harvest

Some things to consider as we head into corn silage harvest season:
  1. Safety first.
  2. Water saturated soils will slow down plant dry-down rate, especially with cooler temperatures. Allowing a little more time for the field to dry out will help alleviate potential soil compaction.
  3. Regardless of lodging, the key management driver is plant moisture.Yield is no longer a concern. Target fields at the ideal moisture content of the storage structure. Bag silos have the greatest moisture range (60 to 70%) and may be best option when the field is variable. 
  4. Good fermentation will help with preservation. Consider a silage inoculant, however, balance the cost of the product with the loss expected in in the field. Don't throw good money after bad.
  5. Use a Kemper head and go against the direction in which it leans.
  6. Reach down low. Run the head as close to the ground as possible. Be wary of rocks and uneven terrain.
  7. Make sure the kernel processor is adjusted correctly. Kernel processing allows for grain that might be more mature extending the harvest window and allowing the soil to dry more avoiding compaction.
Grain harvest

Identify fields that are at greatest risk and harvest these fields first. Fields which experienced late season stress or disease would be prime candidates for early harvest.
  1. Safety first
  2. Reduce ground speed. Slow down and adjust gathering chain and snapping roll speed to match combine speed
  3. Go against the grain. Combine corn the opposite direction from which it leans.
  4. Catch the corn. Adjust gathering chains and snapping plate as close as possible to the stalks.
  5. Reach down low. Run the head as close to the ground as possible. Be wary of rocks and uneven terrain.
  6. Be ready. Scout fields to anticipate harvest problems.
Further Reading

Flooding Effects on Corn

Lodging in Corn

Lauer, J. 2016. Wet Fall Weather, Flooding, Kernel Sprouting and Molds. Agronomy Advice, Field Crops 28.49-127.

Lauer, J. 2008. Flooding Impacts on Corn Growth and Yield. Agronomy Advice. June 2008 Field Crops 28.49-56.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Corn Nitrogen Fixation - Getting closer to a reality


Corn is a major user of nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen fertilizer production is an energy intensive process that uses 1-2% of the total global energy supply and produces an equivalent share of greenhouse gases. For nearly a century, the "holy grail" for this crop and other cereals has been to engineer a mechanism for biological fixation of atmospheric nitrogen.

It looks like we are one step closer. In a recent publication in PLOS Biology, researchers found that atmospheric nitrogen fixation contributed 29-82% of the nitrogen nutrition  of a Mexican corn landrace. The plants are able to do this by producing a sugar-rich mucilage on aerial roots. The mucilage provides a home for a number of nitrogen-fixing bacteria species. This trait appears to be an ancient trait since it is also found in a close corn relative called teosinte.

Scientists are still a long way from nitrogen fixing commercial hybrids of corn adapted to the Midwest U.S. Corn Belt. But, the fact that biological nitrogen fixation can occur on corn plants opens up many novel avenues for future research and improve nitrogen use efficiency.

Further Reading

Van Deynze, A., P. Zamora, P.-M. Delaux, C. Heitmann, D. Jayaraman, S. Rajasekar, D. Graham, J. Maeda, D. Gibson, K.D. Schwartz, A.M. Berry, S. Bhatnagar, G. Jospin, A. Darling, R. Jeannotte, J. Lopez, B.C. Weimer, J.A. Eisen, H.-Y. Shapiro, J.-M. Ané, and A.B. Bennett. 2018. Nitrogen fixation in a landrace of maize is supported by a mucilage-associated diazotrophic microbiota. PLOS Biology 16:e2006352.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Corn Cost of Production Estimates for 2018

It is difficult to predict the economics of corn production next year. In the last blog we discussed how someone might go about forecasting the 2018 price. A grower has little control over price, but can begin to lock in prices using futures contracts. Of course a lot can happen yet between now and harvest.

A grower has more control over cost of production on their farm. In a year with low corn price predictions, every input from management must be reviewed to lower cost of production. In some years, growing corn may not be the best option.

USDA has been producing cost of production estimates since 1975. These estimates are based on the actual costs incurred by producers. USDA performs the estimates from a survey base conducted every five years. The annual Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) has been used to modify the survey base since 1996. Cost of production estimates exclude costs for marketing and storage.

ARMS data collection starts during the fall when production practice and cost data are collected, and finishes in the spring when a follow-up interview collects data about whole-farm costs like overhead, interest, and taxes (Figure 1). Each farm sampled in the ARMS represents a known number of farms with similar attributes so that weighting the data for each farm by the number of farms it represents provides a basis for calculating estimates. Actual cost of production data from 2017 is still being collected at this time.

USDA divides the country into 9 farm resource regions. Wisconsin belongs to the Northern Crescent region while the Heartland region is dominated by the "I" states (see map). Cost of corn production in 2016 was $665 per acre in the Heartland region and $587 per acre in the Northern Crescent (Figure 2). Cost of production in 2018 is predicted to be $645 per acre. The breakeven price for corn at a yield level of 200 bu/A is $3.23 per bushel, at 180 bu/A is $3.58 per bushel, and at 160 bu/A is $4.03. Today, December corn on the CBOT closed at $3.85 per bushel making the 2018 growing season a challenging one economically.

Figure 1. USDA-ERS Cost of Production Estimates for Corn in the Northern Crescent and Heartland regions of the U.S. Derived from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/commodity-costs-and-returns.aspx#historic1



Figure 2. Cost of production and profit estimates for the Northern Crescent and Heartland regions of the U.S.
Derived from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/commodity-costs-and-returns.aspx#historic1

Further Reading

Foreman,  L. 2014. Characteristics and Production Costs of U.S. Corn Farms, Including Organic, 2010. USDA-ERS Economic Information Bulletin No. 128.