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February 14, 2013

Late Planted Safrinha Corn May be Best Used for Silage Production

Farmers in Mato Grosso are hoping to take advantage of a short window of dryer weather to catch up on some of their soybean harvest and to plant a second crop of corn. A safrinha corn crop in Mato Grosso can be planted until mid-March, but the more the planting is delayed, the greater the risk for the crop from a lack of moisture during the grain filling period. The ideal time to plant the corn would be during the month of January because grain filling would be complete before the rains end in late April or early May. If planting is delayed until late February or early March, using the corn for silage production may be a better option than for grain.

The safrinha corn crop in Mato Grosso is approximately 25% planted compared to 45% planted last year at this time. Wet weather continues to delay the soybean harvest, which in turn, delays the corn planting. In their February report, Conab estimated the 2012/13 safrinha corn crop in Mato Grosso at 16.5 million tons while the Mato Grosso Agriculture and Livestock Federation (Famato) is estimating the crop at 14 million tons and the Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea) is estimating the crop at 13.2 million tons. Both Famato and Imea site the delayed planting of the crop as the reason for the lower estimates.

Many farmers in Mato Grosso also raise beef cattle in addition to soybeans and corn. For these farmers, planting a safrinha corn crop for silage may be a better option than producing the corn for grain production, especially if planting is delayed until early March. Corn is harvested for silage when the crop reaches the soft-dough stage, which usually occurs about 90 days after emergence. If the corn is planted on March 1st, it could be harvested for silage on June 1st, or within a few weeks after the rainy season may have ended in early May.

A typical corn crop harvested for silage in Mato Grosso could produce 12 to 15 tons of silage per hectare. If the silage is stored correctly, it could provide high quality feed for beef cattle during the dry season (May to September) when pastures are very scarce.

A cheaper alternative to corn silage may be using sugarcane to provide additional feed during the dry season. Sugarcane can be simply cut and fed to the cattle or it can be made into silage. Sugarcane is inferior in nutritionally quality compared to corn, but it is cheaper to grow, requires less equipment, and it produces more tonnage per hectare than corn. If sugarcane is simply cut and fed directly to cattle, its costs can be only 50% that of corn silage. If the sugarcane is turned into silage, it is 20% cheaper than corn silage. Sugarcane can produce 30 to 40 tons of silage per hectare compared to 12 to 15 tons per hectare for corn.