Cover Crops Can Benefit From Earlier Corn Varieties

11/17/2012 7:00 AM
By Teresa McMinn Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

HOLTWOOD, Pa. — Need more time to grow a productive cover crop?

An early corn hybrid might be the answer.

Cover crops, particularly in areas where grain is harvested into November, can be deficient because of a limited season.

One solution to the problem is planting corn varieties that mature early.

The potential for shorter corn varieties to facilitate cover cropping was one of the subjects discussed at Steve Groff’s 18th Annual Cover Crop Field Day last week in Lancaster County.

About 200 farmers from states including Texas, Iowa, South Carolina and Oregon were at the Nov. 8 event, Groff said.

Although Hurricane Sandy had forced the field day to be postponed for a week, attendance was still good, he said.

“We lost a few, we gained a few,” Groff said of the field day participants.

For the past 10 years, the event has focused primarily on cover crops, whereas this year’s field day included more information about cutting-edge technology and methods, he said.

“The whole concept of planting shorter season corn” that can be harvested a couple of weeks early to allow for a longer cover crop season was also a new topic, he said.

“We are really big on education,” Groff said. “Two weeks is huge in maximizing your cover crop’s potential.”

Taylor Doebler III of T.A. Seeds in Avis, Pa., and Gregory Roth, Penn State University professor of agronomy, led the session on shorter season corn that could allow for earlier cover crop planting.

Investing more time, but not money, in a cornfield can reap many advantages, Doebler said.

“The earlier, the better,” he said of harvesting corn.

Today’s early corn varieties are more disease and heat tolerant, he said.

“The genetics are better,” Doebler said. “They’re bred for a shorter season.”

Over the past 10 to 15 years, the trend has been to move away from longer season hybrids, Roth said.

“We’re seeing a lot of 114, 115-day hybrids being grown,” he said.

“There’s also been a trend for earlier silage,” Roth said of 100 to 110-day hybrids.

Roth presented findings from Penn State silage tests — which included a full season hybrid test — conducted near Bainbridge, Lancaster County, this year.

In the early half of the test, yields averaged 28.4 tons per acre and the later half produced 25.9 tons. The moisture content difference was 4.4 units, which meant the early set of hybrids were ready for harvest about nine days before the later half, Roth said.

At the same location, early hybrids were harvested a week before the full-season test and yielded about 28 tons per acre with the later hybrids averaging 26.6 tons.

Roth said similar results were found at other test sites.

The tests show some early season hybrids are similar in yield potential to later composites, he said.

The bottom line is, early hybrids have good yield potential and can serve as part of a lineup to facilitate cover cropping, Roth said.

Farmers can also use drier silages to fill the bottom of upright silos and avoid leaching problems, he said.

Additionally, early breeds can be planted to avoid frost, Roth said.

“Some of these early hybrids have a pretty good yield potential,” he said. “Think about matching hybrids to particular resources. ... Certain early varieties are suited for certain farms.”

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