Corn once again is making news in farming, but not in the traditional sense. The demand for locally grown, quality corn silage from Georgia and Florida dairymen is creating a profitable opportunity for farming rotation, according to Josh Gunn of John Deere.

John Deere — in cooperation with the Sunbelt Agricultural Exposition, the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc. and Syngenta Seeds — is developing an innovative program to address this need utilizing sound agronomic principles.

Farmers can learn more about this new opportunity at the Sunbelt Expo's Field Day on July 17.

John Bernard, UGA dairy specialist, said corn silage is the predominant forage for feeding dairy cattle across the Southeastern United States. And the quality of the silage has become an important issue.

“Hot, dry weather causes corn to mature faster, so forage harvested on a timely basis is essential for maintaining quality,” Bernard said. “Higher quality means better cows who need less supplemental feed.”

Hiring a custom harvester has become a common practice, because harvest timing is so critical and most producers simply do not have the machinery on hand to harvest their crop in a timely fashion.

The dairy industry also is recognizing the efficiency of kernel processing to increase the silage's digestibility, said Bernard. “This processing, which is built into the newer harvesting machines, allows cows to get more out of their feed,” he said.

“It has been shown to improve milk production and reduce the amount of total waste.”

Cole Robbins of Syngenta, which has 11 hybrids planted in the Sunbelt Expo fields, said corn grown for feed must be harvested earlier, due to the moisture needed to produce silage.

“It is critical that the corn have a 60 to 70 percent moisture content,” Robbins said.

Silage varieties are also being created to allow farmers to plant two corn crops a year. “You plant your best silage hybrid in the spring, and then plant a semi-tropical hybrid planted second crop,” said Roebie Burris of Pioneer Hi-Bred.

These second crop varieties must be able to tolerate late season diseases, such as southern leaf blight and southern rust.

Burris said the new corn varieties could also be planted after other crops. “We are studying its use after onions and some vegetable crops,” he said.