October 27, 2011
WICHITA, Kansas: Grass finisher, Tom German, said he was concerned the Midwest couldn't compete in grass finishing but he said he is no longer concerned.
"Our unfair advantage is a warm-season annual called corn," he said.
Of course, German, from Holstein, Iowa, is referring to greenleaf corn grazed prior to seed formation.
"I've found that open pollinated corn planted thickly doesn't try to make an ear," he said.
German combines his corn with cool-season annuals to produce a much longer high gaining period than he can get from his perennial pastures.
"A forage chain of annuals provides a much longer use plan than perennials and is easy to do organically.
"My goal is to produce at least 400 pounds of beef per acre. You can't do that with an all perennial system," he said.
Kearney, Nebraska, irrigated pasture consultant, Bob Scriven, agreed with German's assessment about corn being the Midwest's unfair production advantage.
"It's the one crop we know how to grow better than anyone else," he said.
He also said that German's 400 lbs per acre goal was not unrealistic from Class One farmlands like German's.
"I know one farmer who produced 968 pounds of gain per acre from grazed corn."
He said that while grazing corn was gaining the most attention from grass finishers it was equally viable for commodity beef producers due to its low cost of gain.
"(The previous example's) cost of gain was only 31 cents per pound of gain and that included $120 an acre land rent."
He said that direct grazing produced gain for about 20% less than a feedlot without even considering the feedlot's yardage charge, and death loss also tends to be less on direct grazed corn.
He said German's observation about his high plant population corn producing little grain was also correct.
"The higher the plant population the less grain there is."
Scriven said that grazed greenleaf corn was equal to ear corn at around 72% TDN and superior to the 65 to 70% TDN for corn silage.
"The only disadvantage to direct grazing is that you can't collect LDP (subsidy) on it."
As a result, he predicted most corn grazing would occur in years like 2006 where yields were low and prices high.
Scriven said direct grazing low yielding crops could result in as much as $200 income for the farmer willing to endure the scorn of his neighbors.
If the practice became wide-spread as in Argentina, farmers could decide in mid-summer whether to route their corn to machine harvest or direct graze depending upon the projected price.
This would help eliminate the building of huge grain surpluses which often depress prices for years.
He said bin-run seed can do well in low-stress, wet years and in fields where there is little competition from crabgrass and other volunteer annuals.
"Where you have competition or stress, the hybrids will do much better."
Scriven said some graziers were purposely growing crabgrass and corn together.
He said crabgrass was, like corn, an extremely high quality summer annual.
He said long-season, 170 day corn is best for grazing because it produces the most green leaves.
He said it takes a corn plant 65 days to get from emergence to silking and ten to 14 days to get from silking to blister.
Scriven said corn contains no starch until it reaches the blister stage and the presence of starch is what separates a grassfed diet from a conventional one.
His advice for grazing greenleaf corn was to either graze before the blister stage, plant male sterile corn, or de-tassel before pollen shed to have barren ears.
The advantage of the latter two is that the corn plant could be stockpiled for winter grazing.
"If we can grow corn with no grain, the corn plant offers us the longest grazing season of any forage crop we can grow in the Midwest. We can actually graze it from July until the following April," he said.
He said he could visualize a machine with a cutter bar that could go through a corn field and cut the tassel tops off and prevent grain from forming.
Another greenleaf opportunity is to graze the corn before the emergence of the growing point.
When grazed in this manner the corn will regrow like other grasses and can be grazed multiple times.
And yet another alternative for a long, greenleaf grazing season is to stagger plant the corn.
He said in South Central Nebraska corn planted every two weeks from April 1 until July 15 provided greenleaf grazing from July 20 until mid October.
In summary, Scriven gave the following points for grass finishers:
* Stagger plant the corn every three to four weeks from spring until 90 days before freeze.
* Use long-season corns for greater green leaf production.
* Start grazing at the 10 to 12 leaf stage on the first grazing. Graze slightly later on subsequent grazings.
* Stop grazing at the blister stage.
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