Skip to main content
ARS Home » News & Events » News Articles » Research News » 1999 » Cattle Have a Hankering for Tropical Corn

Archived Page

This page has been archived and is being provided for reference purposes only. The page is no longer being updated, and therefore, links on the page may be invalid.

A cross between a tropical corn and a private midwestern line.

Related story: Corn and project "GEM."

Cattle Have a Hankering for Tropical Corn

By Judy McBride
November 19, 1999

Tropical corn from Mexico and Central America could become an alternative cattle feed to sorghum in the southern United States. Dairy cows and steers alike seem to prefer it over sorghum, based on studies by the Agricultural Research Service. And it yields about 87 percent more dry matter than sorghum, making each acre more productive.

In the studies, dairy cows ate so much more tropical corn silage that their milk production increased 10 to 20 percent over sorghum. Silage is a fermented, moist feed for wintertime.

Tropical corn silage also appealed to steers. Tests of its nutritional value showed it to be slightly less digestible than forage-type sorghum. But the steers ate more of the tropical corn, evening out the digestibility difference, according to ARS plant physiologist Joseph C. Burns in Raleigh, N.C.

Farmers usually plant sorghum when it gets too wet or too late in the season to plant temperate corn. Tropical corn is a good alternative because it grows well in heat and tolerates insects well.

Tropical corn works best in the southern United States, where long days and a long growing season substitute for its native climate. Its season: Plant in June, harvest in October. Farmers would make and store tropical corn silage in October. In the corn stubble, they'd plant winter wheat or barley for ensiling late the following spring. Alternating tropical corn and the winter crop would protect the ground from erosion and give cows two quality feeds.

ARS plans to work with a university economist to see if this approach would produce extra money for farmers. If so, it might become an even more attractive alternative to sorghum. Southeast farmers now plant about 60,000 acres of tropical corn.

A story about tropical corn appears in the November Agricultural Research magazine at:


ARS is the chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Scientific contact: Joseph C. Burns, ARS Plant Science Research Unit, Raleigh, N.C., phone (919) 515-7599, fax (919) 515-7959,