If you’re going to grow corn in northwestern Canada, you’d better . have these three things: the right variety, weed control and the right field. An increasing amount of farmers have it figured out and are producing corn successfully where no one used to grow it. New short season varieties, more weed control options and better knowledge are making it possible.
Sam King has grown corn for grazing cattle for 12 years. King ranches in Manning, over 100 kilometres north of Peace River, Alta., where heat units average 1,800 per season. King typically plants around 60 acres of corn for his 245 cows. He uses a Roundup Ready variety, Pioneer Hi-Bred 39H83. “That’s been the best one right through,” he says. He likes it for its high yields.
Reint Boelman, one of the partners of Yoke Farm at Westlock, Alta., has grown corn for silage for their 100 dairy cows for five years. The Boelmans grow a conventional variety, Pioneer Hi-Bred 39F45. “We use that one because it has the lowest heat unit requirement. We can usually count on around 1,800 heat units. That one almost always makes it for us,” says Boelman.
Myrdiin Jespersen ofTuxedo Farms, also at Westlock, planted 268 acres of corn silage this year. Tuxedo Farms milks 190 dairy cows and has an 1,800-head feedlot. This is Jesperson’s first corn crop in 12 years. It wasn’t feasible the first time he tried it, but technology has come a long ways since then. “Everybody asks, “Why would you put in so much corn?” Jespersen says. He used Dekalb DKL26-78 on half the field and Pioneer RR 39M26 on the other. “Everything goes across the scale, moisture corrected, so we’ll know exactly how they compare,” Jespersen says. He’s looking forward to seeing the results.
Little Anchor Farms Ltd., of Westlock was one of the first retails to work with corn in the Westlock/Barrhead area. They also have 20 years of experience in growing corn. “Over this time we have learned what works and what doesn’t,” says Jason Slupek, partner with Terry and Angie Rimmer in Little Anchor Farms.
The most popular varieties Little Anchor Farms sell are Roundup Ready varieties that have a rating of 2,125 heat units. Ratings for heat units are based on grain corn. Silage can be maximized at 200 heat units below that number. “Because we are so far north and we only have so many frost free days, we are limited in what products we can grow,” Slupek says.
ROUNDUP READY IMPORTANT
The availability of Roundup Ready corn varieties has certainly helped solve one of the big problems with corn — weed control. Corn doesn’t do well with competition. “By introducing Roundup Ready corn to this area, we have been able to take care of a lot of the weed issues we use to have,” Slupek says. “We still do some conventional corn, but the growers have to be up on their weed control in order for this to work.”
Boelman knows all about this. “We put a whole cocktail of stuff together,” he says. “Weed control in corn has to be very timely, otherwise you might as well not even do it.”
Little Anchor Farms recommends a preseed burnoff with Roundup if using conventional seed, followed by an in-crop treatment with conventional herbicides in the three-to five-leaf stage. It takes a long time for the crop to canopy, so it is important to keep it weed free to about the end of June. That’s why the Roundup Ready varieties work so well. You can spray several times for a small price.
Farmers agree the choice of field is important. “It has to be on your best piece. You’ve got the most cost to put it in, but also your highest value crop,” Boelman says.
He adds, “If you have a spot that always seems to mature quicker than anywhere else, seems warmer, has a bunch of trees, a bit of a lake, that’s probably your best
bet,” He has a 60-acre field along the river, sheltered by large trees that he uses year after year.
LIKE A LONG-TERM PASTURE
The fact that corn can be grown on the same spot for 20 or more years is a big advantage to these farmers. “I barely use any fertilizer, I do corn on corn on corn,” says King. He grazes the same field year after year, building up the manure. He moves the cows every two days.
Jespersen also likes the fact that corn can be planted on the same spot year after year. It takes care of some of the problems with rotation they have with traditional silage crops such as alfalfa and barley.
Being a heavy feeder, corn is a good fit for farms that produce a large amount of manure. “Some dairy farms and feedlots like to use corn because they have all the manure. Corn can use all those nutrients whereas canola and grain will go flat,” Boelman says.
Jespersen says their field received 5,000 gallons of dairy manure per acre on one half section and 16 tonnes of feedlot manure per acre on the other. They added urea to bring the total actual nitrogen value to 80 pounds per acre.
Corn should yield twice as much per acre as barley, Jespersen thinks. Boelman aims for 15 tonnes per acre, at 65 per cent moisture. In order to produce that, corn requires a total of 150 pound of available nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorus,
200 pounds of potassium and
24 pounds of sulphur.
“Some years we get six or seven tonnes dry matter per acre,” King says of his grazing corn. “Year before last I grazed all winter.”
Corn typically shows phosphorus (P) deficiency in early spring as cold soils don’t release the P until they warm up. Research shows that by adding liquid P with the seed there is less deficiency. Little Anchor Farms has one corn planter outfitted with a liquid phorphorus kit.
PLANTING AND HARVEST
Both Jespersen and Boelman rented a corn planter from Little Anchor Farms to seed the crop. “We do that because corn grows best if it is properly spaced. It doesn’t like competition from itself,” Boelman says.
King seeds with his Flexi-coil 5000 airseeder. He uses 12-inch row spacing, an opener with a 3.5-inch spread, and aims to place the seed eight inches apart in the row. While most recommendations with a corn planter are 32,000 seeds per acre, King found that 40,000 seeds give him the best yield.
Silage corn in northwestern Canada is harvested after a killing frost. Generally it is then at optimum maturity for good feed value. Jespersen likes the advantage of spreading out the silage harvest, with corn being later than barley and alfalfa.
Jespersen stresses the importance of a kernel processor when chopping the silage. “If you’re going to plant corn and not process it, don’t bother,” he says. Quality of feed is especially important to him when used for the dairy cows. Both he and Boelman also use inoculants when making silage, which aids in the fermentation process and helps with preservation.
Corn in the short season areas of Canada is not a crop for everyone. You can’t take any shortcuts. There’s little room for error. But for many farmers, it is working well. “The only thing cheaper than corn grazing is chaff,” King says. In the end, it’s the bottom line that counts.
Marianne Stamm lives on a farm near Westlock, Alta.