Short-season corn hybrids in northern Michigan – an option for grain?

Corn silage versus shelled corn in short-season areas of Michigan.

Improvements in early-season corn hybrid genetics are making shelled corn a more realistic option in northern Michigan. At the Upper Peninsula Research Center in the north-central Upper Peninsula, corn is planted with the intention of combining for grain each year. This is a big change from 20 years ago, when virtually no corn grain was produced there. The hybrids planted at Chatham, Mich., are selected for early maturity and drydown characteristics.

The latest Michigan State University corn grain trial conducted at Chatham, Mich., resulted in average yields of 127 bushels per acre and average grain moisture of 27.3 percent at harvest, or 109 bu/acre corrected to 15.5 percent moisture. This small-plot data is a realistic reflection of the field-scale corn yields over the past several years. To achieve these yields, the corn needs to be planted at the appropriate time, fertilized adequately and weeds kept under control.

Corn grain production is typically more dependable and productive in the southern tier of the Upper Peninsula counties and the northern Lower Peninsula. MSU corn grain trials in Delta and Menominee counties over the past three years resulted in the following information given in the table below.

MSU corn grain trials in Delta and Menominee counties over the past three years




Avg. yield
to 15.5%

Avg. moisture at harvest

Avg. yield (corrected to 15.5% moisture)

Avg. moisture at harvest

Avg. yield (corrected to 15.5% moisture)

Avg. moisture at harvest

Delta County







Menominee County







Quality corn silage can be grown consistently in most areas of northern Michigan where soils are appropriate. Where clay soils predominate, planting and harvest can both be hindered by wet, gooey soil conditions. On any soil type, growing corn for grain where the growing season is short, cool and unpredictable is inherently risky, even more so than in more conventional corn grain areas. High grain prices and weak milk prices may make dairy operators wish they could produce corn grain economically, as well as silage. But, careful planning regarding animal feed requirements, costs of purchased grain, realistic yield goals and drying or storage costs is needed.

You must be sure you have all the corn silage you need for the upcoming year before choosing to let some of your corn mature for grain. If extra corn acreage is planted with grain in mind, it can provide a margin of safety for forage production if the grass or legume hay crop is short, like it is this year.

A rule of thumb at the Upper Peninsula Research Center in Chatham, Mich., is that a 15 ton per acre silage crop has potential to yield 110 bushels of shelled corn (at 15.5 percent moisture). This agrees with university research results as presented in the University of Wisconsin Team Forage publication, The Relationship between Corn Grain and Silage Yield, by Joe Lauer.

To refresh your mind on the physiology of corn development and how that should affect the decision to make silage or dry grain, you can review Iowa State University Extension’s article, Deciding Between Grain and Forage Harvest for Late Maturing Corn, by Stephen K. Barnhart and Roger W. Elmore.

A June 2011 article from by Vermont farmer Vicky Carson on the website, Corn grain or silage: It’s a no-brainer!, compares the value of corn silage to on-farm corn grain production.

For more information, contact U.P. crop production educator Jim Isleib at 906-387-2530.

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