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Breeding corn for silage

Bill Curran Published on 17 January 2011

Breeding corn for silage is very much like a conventional program for grain. The goal is to provide products that fit individual’s needs.

Most seed companies characterize grain hybrids for their value as forage hybrids. Breeders trying to develop hybrids for silage measure product dry matter, tonnage and other traits that indicate how well a product might work for forage growers.

After collecting information on experimental hybrids, they look at the individual contribution from parents and also consider the molecular profile. This combination provides insights into the progress they are making on key silage traits.

Breeders rely on molecular marker techniques to discover where potential contributions are coming from within individual parent lines. This process helps breeders select new and more improved inbreds or parent lines, helping to create new hybrids with even better value for the silage marketplace.

Key areas of breeding:

    1. Tonnage yield is often the No. 1 one trait producers demand. Silage growers appreciate high tonnage, just as grain producers value high grain yields on their productive acres.

  1. Starch also is a key component. The target, thus, is tonnage plus quality. Breeders want to have high tonnage but also a highly digestible, easily measured component. Another factor companies review is the whole-plant digestibility, or digestible fiber.


Traits that contribute to high energy density and high milk yield per acre or per ton of silage include digestible fiber, starch, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and other components that influence animal performance. Scientists measure these important qualities with state-of-the-art technologies, including harvest and lab equipment.

Pioneer, for example, employs on-chopper NIR and also uses this technology in its labs. The company collects vast amounts of data each fall to decide which are the top products.

These meticulous comparisons allow breeders to make great strides in obtaining the most valuable products for silage producers.  FG

Bill Curran is a Pioneer research scientist based in LaSalle, Colorado, who can be reached at .

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