Staying Committed to Silage

Published on Wed, 09/18/2019 - 3:14pm

Staying Committed to Silage

Article and photos provided by Masters Choice Seed Corn

 Not all seed corn companies view the silage market the same. Some think having a big, tall plant is enough to make good silage, while others ignore the market entirely, and almost all seed corn companies agree that not all kernels are created equally. Touring the Southern Illinois research facilities of Masters Choice reveals how easy it is to tell their approach to silage is much more comprehensive than their competitors.

“You won’t find vacuum sealed silage samples on the same shelf as test seed and yield reports in just every lab,” says Cullen Johnson, Head Plant Breeder at Masters Choice. “We believe that for a hybrid to be successful, and have a future in our lineup, it needs to yield and have solid agronomics. Still, it also needs to make for efficient livestock feed.”
Like their competitors, Masters Choice research program analyzes the yield and agronomic packages of hundreds of new and existing products every year. However, the MC team takes things to a whole new level when it comes to testing for feed quality.

“The purpose of feeding a silage corn to your livestock is to see an increase in efficiency. Not all corn is created equal. There are significant differences between a hybrid’s fiber digestibility and grain quality. The trouble is, there isn’t just one test, or even a couple tests a lab can run to determine the effectiveness of your feed in the animal,” Masters Choice President, Lyn Crabtree explains. “It’s very common for a sample to score highly in the popular silage trialing metric, but not to make any more milk or have any practical advantage. It’s taken us over a dozen years to build a testing protocol that we feel adequately represents milk production and feeding efficiency. As we select hybrids for our lineup every year, we are balancing the results of the rigorous testing agronomically and nutritionally to select the one or two new hybrids worthy of bearing the Masters Choice name.”

One hybrid characteristic of great importance to Masters Choice, is their lineup’s softer grain texture, or “floury grain” as often referenced. This grain is composed of a softer endosperm than typical industry hybrids, allowing for a slower rate of passage and more complete digestion by the animal due to an apparent ease of breaking down and often staying in the rumen as long as twice that of harder grain.

“We’ve maintained our deep commitment to the silage and livestock customer for all these years because we believe it is where we can make the biggest difference on the farm. Our product, institutional knowledge, and our passion all support an “all-in” approach to dairy farms. We’re really making a significant impact on hundreds of operations across North America by increasing farm efficiency,” says Crabtree.

As Masters Choice maintains their commitment to the livestock industry, they continue to promote what their company calls their “core concepts”. These are the concepts that represent the most significant advantages on the farm. This starts with the softer endosperm, an advantage that studies show can allow up to 50% more starch to be digested in the rumen of a cow. Another core concept is what Masters Choice calls “Feed First”. This means that a softer endosperm, Masters Choice hybrid does not need to be ensiled nearly as long as a harder, more vitreous competitor’s hybrid, before it reaches feed levels of fermentation, allowing it to be fed much earlier in the fall without a drop in milk production. Recent data shows a Masters Choice silage sample reaching 75% starch availability only 28 days after harvest. It took the competition 105 days to reach the same milestone.

Lyn Crabtree offers an explanation for these prolific numbers.

“Our company is well known for the digestibility of our starch, but one of the things that often gets overlooked, that is really important to the success of our silage, is the quality of the fiber. As half of the dry matter yield, it can’t be overlooked for the sake of starch, you really can’t have one without the other. By utilizing flex hybrids, we can lower planting populations without sacrificing any yield. This decrease in population results in a much greater quality of fiber, allowing us to pair that with our world class starch to make a total package.”

Unlike many independent companies, Masters Choice boasts a full Research and Development department that can pull from a proprietary genetic base. The company’s previous owner, John Rucker, established an extensive base of genetics prior to the Crabtree family’s purchase of the company in 2004, and the Crabtree’s have only added new genetics into the portfolio in the time since.

“Our goal is to offer only those corn hybrids that make elite animal feed, and we’re willing to look at a wide range of genetic options to make that happen,” Cullen Johnson explains. “It is very helpful to have genetic options in house that we are familiar with. It allows us the opportunity to see materials and make selections that no one else is seeing.”
With all of these elements contributing to the company’s success, Lyn Crabtree still attributes the most significant boost to the business to another source.

“There are so many people that have contributed to the growing success of Masters Choice, and I appreciate them all. Whether that be our stellar employees, our fantastic dealer base, or the dairymen themselves, we’re so thankful to everyone that contributes to the operation. But even with that said, we feel that any success we enjoy is the result of the Lord blessing our efforts, leading and guiding us in all things that we do.”