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How to Harvest Drought Stressed Corn Silage

Rainfall has been lackluster throughout parts of the country, especially in Southern, Western and Mid-Western regions. With fields deprived of moisture, don’t be surprised if this year’s corn silage crop is drought stressed.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Agronomy Extension team offers these tips when chopping drought-stressed corn:

  • When corn is so drought stressed that it may not resume growth, it should be ensiled. Corn in this condition usually has few ears and has leaves that have turned brown and are falling off. Be careful not to harvest prematurely because corn with ears and some green leaves may still be able to resume growth and accumulate dry matter later in the season.

  • One concern with drought-stressed corn is the potential for high nitrate levels in the silage. High nitrate levels are found most frequently where high nitrogen rates were applied or when a drought-stressed crop is chopped within three days following a rain. Ensiling crops that are suspected to have high nitrate levels is preferred to green chopping since the fermentation process will decrease nitrate levels by about 50%. When in doubt, have the forage analyzed before feeding. High nitrate feedstuffs can be diluted by feeding with another feedstuff.

  • Drought can affect the whole plant’s moisture content. When drought slows plant growth and delays maturity, the moisture content will be higher than suggested by the appearance of the crop. When a drought occurs at the end of the season, moisture levels may be lower than normal. Consequently, measuring the moisture content of drought-stressed corn before ensiling is recommended.


August 15, 2022



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