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Moving the Cornbelt North
Most corn grown in the Red River Valley along the Minnesota-North Dakota border is in the 85-day maturity range, which is about all the growing season that far north can handle. But at least one farmer in the area - Hiram "Hi" Drache, Baker, Minn. - is moving the corn belt north. He's successfully growing 120-day corn in 85-day corn country.
If his name rings a bell, it's because Hi is a well-known college professor, noted speaker and author of three popular books on midwestern farming. He's also an innovative farmercattle feeder who thinks his new idea for making corn silage is a good one.
He plants a late-season, 120 day hybrid, knowing it will freeze just as ear set is taking place. He says the practice gives him almost twice the digestible protein, and a crop that can be chopped in November or December when silo space becomes available.
Drache stumbled onto the idea in 1975 when much of the Red River Valley flooded out in June and he lost 300 acres of corn. He replanted in July, hoping to get feed of any kind. When he chopped the "earless" corn in late November, he found it had 30% more digestible protein than did some early-May planted corn that didn't flood out.
Explains Drache; "The tonnage wasn't much - only 2.66 tons/acre. But, by leaving it in the field until late November and early December, it was only 28% moisture and carried an amazingly high percentage of digestible protein. Balanced with alfalfa haylage, it fed great."
Nutritional results from that first experiment, and the fact that several of his neighbors had been chopping corn in midwinter since 1964, convinced Drache he could make some changes in his corn silage program.
In 1976, he planted 250 acres of 113-day corn that was 400 miles north of its adapted maturity area. Drache chopped it in mid-winter when moisture content had dropped to 40% or lower. Feeding value of the cornlage tested 6.5% digestible protein, about double the value of conventional corn silage in his area. TDN measured 64% and dry matter yields averaged right at 6000 lbs. per acre. All this in a growing season which received only 4.4 in. of rain from April 14 to Oct. 13.
"Although this was one of our driest years in recent history, this crop produced 3840 lbs. of TDN per acre. Put a 5 cent/lb.
TDN value against it and we were working with a $192/acre crop value. In view of our dry season that year, that was a mighty acceptable performance," states Drache.
Last year, Drache tried a new 120-day variety, thinking the additional five to seven days maturity would allow him to pump out still more nutrient value per acre. Unfortunately, his area was hit by a heavy blizzard in November and he lost much of the crop. But he's not worried. Weather records for the area show that in 19 out of 20 years, there is no major weather hazard before the year's end. Drache thinks those are pretty good odds and he's back at it again this year with a 120-day variety. "We want just one thing from our corn, and that's maximum feeding value per acre. We're convinced that this switch to longer maturity hybrids is the way to get it."
Drache notes that "we cut as fine as we can with our chopper, then recut it through our hammermill feed processor. It comes out practically like oatmeal - so fine that it's like instant digestibility once it hits the rumen. We also add some water back into the silage as it's being recut. We feed the cornlage 50-50 with haylage, plus minerals. During cold weather, we add 2 lbs. per head daily of rolled corn for added energy. Otherwise, this 50-50 mixture works great."
Dean Gresham, of Moorhead, Minn., a nutritional management consultant who does work for Drache and his partner, Ronald Offutt, points out that from a nutrition standpoint, corn is at its maximum nutrient value just as the corn plant initiates ear growth. "Just as the early bud stage is the ideal period for fixing maximum nutrient values for alfalfa, the same is true for corn," Gresham contends. "However, it would be ridiculous to ensile corn at this stage - it's still virtually 90% water. So, you either plant normal m

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1978 - Volume #2, Issue #5