The corn hybrids you planted for silage a few years ago may not be your best choices for next year, says Mike Allen, Michigan State University extension dairy nutritionist. Milk and grain prices have changed, so the strengths and weaknesses of various hybrids also may have changed, he points out.

Selecting silage hybrids to maximize farm profits is complicated, says Allen. To help simplify it, he recently developed and released CornPicker, an Excel spreadsheet that calculates the profit from using one corn hybrid, the Challenger, vs. another hybrid, the Defender, a favorite or a reference standard. The spreadsheet can be downloaded for free from the Michigan Dairy Review Web site at www.msu.edu/user/mdr/.

The spreadsheet considers a host of factors, including expected yield, crude protein, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and NDF digestibility differences among hybrids; silage consumption; the amount of milk one hybrid produces vs. another and its value at today's prices; and the cost of purchased corn grain and soybean meal.

“Two years ago in Michigan and many other areas, corn grain cost less per pound of dry matter fed than corn silage. So the program would have put more emphasis on a hybrid with less grain in it because you could supplement corn grain cheaper than the cost of corn silage,” says Allen. “Now it's completely opposite and this program reflects those differences.”

Unlike other indexes, such as those that calculate milk/acre, CornPicker uses a partial-budget approach. “A partial budget only considers those costs and returns that change in response to a management change. In this case, that management change is selecting hybrids,” he says.

Initially, calculating the data that CornPicker needs to compare one hybrid to another might seem intimidating, he says. “It takes awhile to get through the spreadsheet the first couple of times. It will be fairly simple for producers who have already calculated partial budgets for other parts of their businesses.”

In addition to producers, he knows of several dairy consultants who are using CornPicker to evaluate hybrids for their clients. “Once they've run the program for one or two farms,it's much easier for them to do it for many others,” he says.

After downloading the program, users can use the default values already built into it, or they can use inputs specific to their farms. These inputs include all the costs of growing, harvesting and storing corn silage, plus shrinkage and spoilage losses and feed refusal percentage. Production costs include seed, fertilizer, lime, insecticide, herbicide, irrigation, fuel, labor, insurance and interest. Machinery expenses, including fixed costs and repairs, must also be included.

“The payback for using CornPicker can be significant,” says Allen. “For instance, a dairy producer with 100 lactating cows can save as much as $5,000 by using the program to select one hybrid over another.”

When choosing Challenger hybrids to compare to the Defender, he recommends using seed company data as well as results from university trials at multiple locations and environments.