Grazing Corn Production in Northern Climates Worth Another Try

by | May 3, 2021 | Agronomy Solutions

Photo: David Mark from Pixabay

Corn for grazing, if done right, can really improve a cow producer’s bottom line. It can mean less time spent feeding cattle, less wear and tear on equipment, and less pumping ether into the ol’ 4440 when it’s 30 below. 

Some producers in northern Alberta may have tried grazing corn, but had a wreck, leaving a bad taste in their mouths. But there are things they (and new corn growers) can do to help mitigate the chance of an unsuccessful crop.

First, work with your ag retail agronomy team. These folks have a lot of knowledge and can help you get started and help advise you if this is your second or third try at the crop. You’ll also want to work with your nutritionist to fine tune your ration if feeding corn is new to your herd.

Make sure your trash is controlled in the field. In this area (north of Highway 16), we’re typically a little cooler and we have more moisture. I would recommend doing some pre-seed tillage to blacken dirt up and incorporate some of that trash into the soil. Do a pre-seed burn-off with glyphosate and a tank mix partner to control glyphosate tolerant canola volunteers, which is one of our main weed problems here. 

A few additional steps to follow

Planting

Choose and use a couple of different varieties to spread out maturity risk, as some early maturing varieties can over-ripen. Seeding is generally done in mid-May, although you can safely seed corn in soils with temperatures of 8 C and up. Note that if there is snow and/or cold rain forecasted, you’re better off to push your seeding date back a little bit and wait for the weather to cooperate — snow or cold rain for up to five days after planting can hurt emergence.

Using a planter is an absolute must to get maximum value from your corn crop. Work with your retailer, or another grower or neighbour, to get hold of a planter if you don’t have one. The planter should be set to a seed depth of 1.5 inches minimum, and a row spacing of 12 to 20 inches.

When planting, consider sowing the seed in smaller paddocks — this allows the cattle to best utilize your corn crop. If you put your cattle onto a 160-acre swath of corn, there will be a lot of wastage. So cross fencing your field so the cattle can graze in smaller acres will provide your best return.

Fertility 

Corn is a very hungry crop that requires a lot of fertilizer — start with what would be considered a robust canola blend and work up from there. Soil test and work with retail and an agronomist. You can hinder yourself by extending that maturity of the corn if you’re not putting proper fertility down.

Weed control

Corn is a very poor competitor early on, so weed control is extremely important. In this part of the province, volunteer canola is one of the most prevalent weeds.

As mentioned, a pre-seed burn off followed in crop with glyphosate and a registered tank mix partner will control most of the weed spectrum in northern Alberta. Once again, leverage the expertise of your local ag retail to determine your weed spectrum herbicide choice and timing.  

Summary

Whether you’re a first-time grower of grazing corn, or you had less than expected results in the past and want to try again, work with your local ag retail to come up with a program that’s going to position you for success. If you’re uncertain, start small on a 20-acre chunk and you can experiment with it. Overall, keep these three key factors in mind — use a planter, maximize fertility and keep that field clean.

Kurt Holdis

Proven Seed Representative in northern Alberta, Nutrien Ag Solutions - Kurt Holdis grew up in Edmonton, Alta., and after spending summers on the family farm in Grassland, Alta., he decided to pursue a career in agriculture. After graduating from Olds College in Olds, Alta., Kurt returned to Grassland where he farmed with his uncle and worked in various roles in agriculture and in oil and gas. Kurt joined Nutrien Ag Solutions in 2017 as a Crop Production Advisor at the Smoky Lake, Alta. retail location and is now in the role of Proven Seed Representative for northern Alberta.