The rain was welcome on Thursday but the wind and hail damage that came were devastating to a good portion of the County. I’m so sorry to all of you affected….for some of you, this is two years in a row of severely hail damaged or totaled out crops. We are thankful the damage wasn’t worse. You can see more pictures here.
So the big question is what do you do now? Ultimately, each field will need to be assessed on a case by case basis. The following are our NebGuides for hail damage to corn and soybeans. For the most part we were in brown-silk to blister for corn and late pod-beginning seed in soybean (R4-R5). The concerns I have right now are stalk quality, disease, grain filling, and the amount of diseased grain we may have due to mushy areas on hail-damaged cobs right now. Several years ago, we watched how severely hail-damaged corn a little later in the season turned brown and died. We also know that southern rust is in the area and while much of the leaf tissue in the County is damaged, it is still in the County in other fields and south of us. The Puccinia polysora fungus that causes southern rust, when severe enough, will infect and cause pustules on the stalks. With the wounding and low leaf area for photosynthesis, stalk strength is a concern and fungicides may be a consideration depending on potential yield loss-again need to assess on a field by field basis.
I talked with a number of people on Friday regarding thoughts on silage, green chop, haying/baling, planting cover crops, etc. Dr. Bruce Anderson, UNL Extension Forage Specialist, said the most common salvage operation for corn damaged by hail, wind, drought, or other calamities is to chop it for silage. Don’t be in a hurry, though. Standing corn currently could be over 80 percent moisture. The easiest way, and maybe the best way, to lower moisture content is simply wait until some stalks start to turn brown. Waiting also allows surviving corn to continue to add tonnage.
But in some of our damaged fields, I don’t think we can wait to make silage. Bruce also shared you can reduce moisture by windowing the crop and allow it to wilt one-half to one full day before chopping. You also could mix grain or chopped hay to freshly chopped corn to lower the moisture content. It takes quite a bit of material for mixing though – about 7 bushels of grain or 350 pounds of hay to lower each ton of silage down to 70 percent moisture from an original 80 percent moisture. That’s 7 bushels grain or 350 pounds of hay for each ton of silage.
Or, you can allow that windrowed corn to dry completely and bale it as hay. Be sure to test it for nitrates before feeding. Grazing might be the easiest way to use damaged corn, and this is a good way to extend your grazing season. You might even plant some corn grain or sorghum-sudangrass or oats and turnips between rows to grow more forage for grazing if you can wait until late fall before grazing. Be sure to introduce livestock slowly to this new forage by feeding them before turning in to reduce the chances of digestive problems. Also, strip graze the field to reduce trampling losses and get more grazing from the corn.