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Harvesting Frosted Corn For Silage Is An Option

While favorable August-September growing weather offset some of the corn crop's delayed development due to

While favorable August-September growing weather offset some of the corn crop's delayed development due to a tough spring and a cool June-July period, now’s the time to consider the likelihood that some fields won’t receive enough growing-degree days, says J.W. Schroeder, North Dakota State University Extension.

Schroeder offers these suggestions for dealing with frosted corn where silage is a viable alternative:

  • Don't rush into harvesting corn after the first frosty night. Immature corn still has quite a bit of sugar, which acts like antifreeze, making milk-stage corn somewhat tolerant of a moderate frost. Even if the leaves get singed, as long as they have green leaf tissue, or even if only the stalk remains green, the plant will continue to mature. Of course, when harvesting begins will depend on how much frosted corn the producer has to harvest for silage.

  • Don't overestimate the drying effects of frost. Producers often look at the frost-crisped leaves and start chopping, but leaves are only 10% of the whole plant's dry matter. Much of the moisture (and yield) is in the stalk, especially the bottom half, which often dries slowly. Time your harvest to the results of a dry-matter test.

  • Once the plant is dead, if the husks still are wrapped tightly around the ear, harvest as soon as possible. A tight husk cover holds in moisture; under warm conditions, ear molds can start within a week after the plant dies.

  • Use a bacterial silage inoculant when ensiling frosted corn because a hard frost may kill many of the naturally occurring fermentation bacteria in fields.
Schroeder also recommends producers get a forage analysis before starting to feed frost-damaged corn to livestock. Compared with well-dented corn, immature corn often is higher in protein but always lower in starch and energy. Testing will help producers develop a well-balanced feed ration for their livestock.
-- NDSU Agriculture Communication