Dairy farming is an integral part of agriculture on the North Coast of California. The climate and the soils of North Coast deltas, river valleys, and flood plains allow dairy farmers to graze cows on excellent pasture for most of the year. However, some supplemental feed is required, including grain, hay, and silage. Silage corn is corn grown to near maturity, then harvested as a whole plant, chopped, and fermented (ensiled) to increase its digestibility.
Although silage corn is just a small part of the diet of these dairy cows, it is nonetheless an important crop. North Coast area silage producers face a couple of challenges. The first challenge is that the area is drastically different from the major corn producing areas. When OSA’s Jared Zystro shared the local temperatures with a corn breeder in the Midwest, she thought there was a typo. There are few varieties able to mature in the area because of the cool summers. The second challenge is that the major corn breeding companies focus on releasing varieties with genetically engineered (GE) traits. Because of this, some local farmers feel that if they want access to the newest and best silage corn varieties, they need to use GE corn.
If Measure P passes this fall, growers will not be allowed to grow GE varieties in Humboldt county. In response, OSA has received requests to conduct an extensive trial to see if there are other varieties that could be comparable to those currently only available with GE traits.
To provide coastal dairy farmers with better information about silage corn variety choices, OSA is conducting a silage corn trial in 2014. This is a rigorous, replicated trial of 10 promising non-GE silage corns. We will be looking at yield, maturity, and silage quality. We are co-hosting a field day with Warren Creek Farms in Arcata, CA on Wednesday, September 17, 2014, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and will produce a report later this year. The project is supported by University of California Cooperative Extension-Humboldt, California Certified Organic Farmers, Columbia Foundation, and Gaia Fund.