Utilizing Corn Silage Hybrid Trial Results

Joe Lawrence, Tom Overton, Allison Lawton, Margaret Smith
Department of Animal Science, PRO-DAIRY; Plant Breeding and Genetics

A number of independent Corn Silage Hybrid Testing Programs, including the New York (NY) Corn Silage Hybrid Trials, offer valuable information on hybrid performance. But what if the hybrids you’re looking at are not found in individual trials? Hybrids in the trials are a subset, and on the surface may seem limited in their usefulness. However, the results can offer a wealth of information beyond the ranking of participating hybrids.

In fact, just looking at the top performing hybrids from a single year, while interesting, has limited value. Trial data for an individual hybrid is most useful with multiple locations and multiple years to understand how the hybrid performs across a wide range of conditions. This level of data can be hard to come by in the independent trials but may be available from seed companies.

In the absence of data on a specific hybrid, independent trials offer the opportunity to study;

  • how participating hybrids performed relative to their peers at each location,
  • which characteristics, among the participating hybrids, resulted in the most consistent performance, and
  • the expected range in results for important values, such as starch content and fiber digestibility.

With this information, you are equipped to ask individual companies for data on these important characteristics and values in their hybrids. While the specific hybrid may not be in the trial, a company should have information on other hybrids that share the same lineage or have similar performance to a hybrid that exhibited desirable characteristics in the trials.

Comparing to the Location Mean
The mean for a location is the average value of the measured parameter (yield or % starch). Since several localized factors, such as weather and soil type, influence the performance of the hybrids at a particular location, studying the absolute values (yield per acre, % starch or fiber digestibility) is not suggested. It is much more helpful to study the trial mean and compare hybrid performance relative to this mean to gain a better understanding of how it performed under the conditions at that location.

Whole Plant Dry Matter (DM) Considerations
In any testing program, the goal is to harvest all hybrids as close to the same stage of maturity (whole plant DM) as possible. In practice it is recognized that there will be variation in DM at harvest. Yields are corrected to a uniform DM for reporting. They are generally reported at 35% DM. However, it is also important to acknowledge the effect of DM on forage quality. It is recommended to only compare the forage quality results of hybrids that are within three percentage points of DM to each other.

Impact of Location
When data for multiple locations within the same trial are available or data on the same hybrids grown under slightly different management in other testing programs are available, it can be very useful to understand the effects that weather patterns, planting dates, seeding rates and other differences can have on the hybrid. This insight helps to address questions regarding the ability of a hybrid to perform consistently across conditions or if there are specific conditions where it performs best that match the conditions typical of your farm. Again, utilizing company data in conjunction with other trials can be very powerful for this.

It is also important to note that differences in growing conditions does not just impact yield, it can have large impacts on forage quality. While we commonly look at important factors such as whole plant dry matter and starch content, the effect of growing conditions on fiber digestibility was very apparent.

Fiber Digestibility
In recent years several advances in ruminant nutrition have increased our understanding of fiber digestibility, how this drives how much a cow will eat and the implications on her potential to produce milk. The measurement of undigested neutral detergent fiber (uNDF) is being reported by more hybrid testing programs and was an integral piece of data in the new approach to predicting potential milk yields in the NY Corn Silage Testing Program.

Starting in 2016, the NY trials used new methods to evaluate the milk producing potential of corn silage. The Cornell Net Carbohydrate & Protein System (CNCPS) model was used to predict the expected milk yield (in pounds per day) of a typical, Northeastern high lactating ration with each of the participating corn hybrids entered into the same total ration. Again, the relative ranking of the hybrids is more useful than the absolute values, but this approach uses a much more in depth analysis to assess how each hybrid may perform in an actual ration compared to previous approaches. It is evident in the report how the uNDF content of each hybrid may affect the potential dry matter intake of the ration and the subsequent effect on projected milk yield.

Starch Content & Digestibility
Starch content is a popular number to look at and justifiably so. At the risk of excessive repetition, this is another case where it is critical to look at these values in the context of the location mean, rather than absolute values as growing conditions and stage of harvest (whole plant dry matter) can affect this value.

Starch digestibility is more challenging. We know this value changes as the silage ferments, and laboratories continue to refine their ability to accurately predict starch digestibility using NIR methods, compared to the more intensive wet chemistry laboratory testing methods. It is also recognized that results from green (unfermented) samples, as are often used in Hybrid Testing Programs, are less consistent. It is generally accepted that a hybrid with good starch digestibility before fermentation will remain incrementally better after fermentation when compared to a hybrid that starts with lower digestibility before fermentation. Inquiring with a company about their data is quite beneficial, especially if they have wet chemistry data on fermented samples. It is always best to compare results from the same laboratory. However, if the results available are from different labs, ask for data from multiple hybrids to establish the relative differences in like datasets.

Yield and Agronomic Characteristics
While yield often receives too much attention in silage hybrid selection, you do want strong hybrids that have a competitive yield and are able to handle potential stressors. Some of these stressors may be more broadly driven by weather, while others may be typical of the micro-climate you farm, such as soil drainage, air drainage (disease prevalence) or elevation driven temperature trends.

This is another instance where rather than focusing on actual yield numbers, pooling data from multiple locations and sources and matching this with weather data from those locations will help you understand if a hybrid’s performance is consistent across conditions or if it excels and falters in certain situations that may be applicable to your area.

Results for the 2016 NYS Corn Silage Hybrid Trials can be found at: http://scs.cals.cornell.edu/extension-outreach/field-crop-production/variety-trials#corn-silage


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