Press Release, Haut-Mauco, 10/01/2022
When it comes to corn breeding, it’s all the same, right? Anyone who cuts corn for silage might disagree – while most traditional corn breeding programs look for high grain yields, there are other important qualitative measures at play in silage hybrids.
Specific silage needs
“In many ways, silage corn is a more complex crop than grain corn,” says Evgeny Boldisov, head of marketing department for MAS Seeds in Russia. “It has to include all the positive economical parameters such as yield potential, disease tolerance, drought tolerance and lodging tolerance. But it also has to provide energy through fiber and starch.”
In addition to making sure the right energy elements are present, the team at MAS Seeds says they take a close look at digestibility of the silage. It’s one thing to provide the energy, it’s another to give it to cattle in a form that’s easy to digest.
“If our hybrid has 5% higher fiber digestibility it results in more milk,” Evgeny adds. “A 1% higher digestibility score is an additional 200 grams of milk per cow per day, or 40 grams of meat in meat cattle.”
Also, the stay-green of plants is very important to be able to harvest the silage at the right maturity
“Only 1 out of 3 farmers succeed to harvest between 32 and 35% of dry matter, that is the best compromise between yield, storage quality, and feed value,” Evgeny says. “It becomes even more complicated with the climate change.”
Unique breeding priorities
While most corn breeding programs prioritize dual use corn hybrids, looking at corn for grain differently than corn for silage has benefits for feeders and grain farmers alike.
“One important aspect in grain products that was sometimes overlooked when breeding for dual use silage and grain is, they weren’t early maturing enough,” says Tobias Eschholz, silage corn breeding lead at MAS Seeds. “The dry down of the grain was insufficient because we were looking for more stay green to benefit the silage producers. There were conflicting interests.”
In many cases, corn grown for silage is taking the place of pastures or other marginal soil types. So, in addition to needing to create a higher energy crop overall, the crop needs to be a sturdier hybrid to withstand a wider variety of environmental conditions.
“By separating the two breeding programs, we’re able to focus on consistency in silage yields over a wide variety of environments, while maximizing potential grain yields in more favorable conditions,” Evgeny says. “With our GREEN+ portfolio, we’ve intensified stay green and created better yield consistency for silage farmers.”
Key qualitative metrics the team at MAS Seeds uses for silage
“We actually did something that surprised a lot of breeders,” Tobias says. “We moved our testing network to more difficult conditions because we want to understand how the product works on fields similar to what the farmer uses. This can actually make it challenging to register new silage products because we provide consistency and yield in poorer soil and drought conditions, and they don’t always perform as well in ‘good’ conditions.”
MAS Seeds silage hybrids provide consistent yields in good conditions and poor conditions, while others show bigger swings - high yields in good conditions and significantly lower yields in poor conditions. Despite that additional challenge, MAS Seeds continues to push their silage products on marginal soil types and environmental conditions. They test in environments that farmers grow in so they have real-world results.
In addition, just like grain crops, disease tolerance is critical.
“We appreciate what the breeders are doing overall to create consistency – especially when it comes to disease tolerance,” says Oksana Krasnyanskaya, subsidiary manager Russia. “The problem of foliar diseases is not forgotten even though we try to reduce the use of pesticide. It’s so important to have that tolerance.”
Understanding crop behaviour in tough environments or in environments with existing disease pressure provides more realistic results from breeding trials, especially in the context of climate change with hotter and dryer summers. This helps farmers set expectations when they plant the silage crop.
Discover Tobias interview on Silage Corn Breeding on youtube here.