Panhandle Perspectives - August 29, 2017

Is that corn worth more as silage or grain?

By Aaron Berger, Extension Educator – beef systems

With tight forage supplies in some areas, and little immediate hope for higher corn prices, Nebraska corn growers might want to consider harvesting corn for silage this year.

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Aaron Berger

Farmers should consider several factors when making this decision: how to assign a value to the corn; the nutrient value of the corn compared to other choices; and what will be the best fit for their particular operation. Other factors, such as fertilizer value of manure from silage, may also influence the decision.

Both methods of harvest have advantages and disadvantages, depending upon an operation’s goals and objectives.  

Hay and forage prices are being supported by drought conditions around the region. Eastern Nebraska had a good first cutting of hay, but subsequent cuttings have been less. Western Nebraska hasn’t fared so well. Sandhills meadows will likely average less production than last year and yields will be below long-term averages. Annual forages harvested for hay will be down as well, due to lack of moisture in June and July.

Nationally there are sufficient stocks of corn and the current crop in much of the Corn Belt is estimated to be adequate to support December corn futures trading either side of $3.50 per bushel. With the basis differences in Nebraska, statewide average price is in the area of $3.00 per bushel.

Pricing corn silage

Pricing corn silage can be a complex and highly variable process. There are three points in time where corn silage is often priced: standing in the field, packed in the bunker, and delivered in the bunk.

Standing in the Field: UNL research has shown that corn silage priced standing in the field before harvest should be valued at 7.65 times the price per bushel of corn, where a ton of corn silage is harvested at 60-65 percent moisture. This multiplier value is consistent regardless of corn price. Corn at $3.00 per bushel x 7.65 = $22.95 per ton in the field.

Packed in the Bunker: Harvest, hauling and packing expenses can vary.  A survey for 2016 Nebraska Farm Custom Rates - II (http://farm.unl.edu/custom-rates-2016-part-2.pdf) showed a range of $7 to $10 per ton, with $10 the most common rate. Adding $10 to the $22.95-per-ton silage from the first example equals $32.95 per ton in the silo. Adding $2 per ton for storage, the price per ton would rise to $34.95.

Delivered in the Bunk: Due to the ensiling process, corn silage will experience shrink and dry matter loss from 10 to 20 percent or more between when silage is packed into the silo and when it is removed to be fed. With 10 percent dry matter shrink, the value of silage delivered to the bunk would be $38.83 per ton. If the shrink loss is 20 percent, then the value of silage would be $43.69 per ton.

Comparing nutrient value

Corn field

Comparing corn silage under current market conditions to other feed resources can help in evaluating whether to harvest a field for silage or as grain. When comparing nutrients in feeds to one another, they should be compared on a price-per-pound-on-a-dry-matter basis consumed by the cattle. This takes into account all waste loss and expense.

Corn silage in this example at either 10 percent or 20 percent shrink loss would have the following energy values when priced per pound of TDN (energy) on a dry matter basis delivered to the bunk.

Corn silage priced at $38.83 per ton that is 35 percent dry matter and has total digestible nutrient value (TDN) of 72 percent on a dry-matter basis would cost $.077 per pound of TDN.

Corn silage priced at $43.69 per ton that is 35 percent dry matter and has a TDN value of 72 percent on a dry-matter basis would cost $.086 per pound of TDN.

Here are three other feeds that are currently available in the Nebraska and their energy values when priced per pound of TDN (energy) on a dry matter basis.

Wet distillers grains plus solubles at $50 per ton delivered that is 35 percent dry matter, has a TDN of 108 percent on a dry-matter basis, and shrinks 10 percent would cost $.069 per pound of TDN.

Corn priced at $3.00 per bushel with a TDN value of 88 percent on a dry-matter basis would cost $0.071 per pound of TDN.

Ground Grass hay priced at $90 per ton with a TDN value of 53 percent on a dry-matter basis would cost $0.095 on a dry matter basis.

The nutrient or fertilizer value of manure from cattle fed corn silage should also be taken into account in determining the value of corn silage. In operations where the nutrient value from manure is utilized with cropping systems, this manure value should be credited back against the cost of the corn silage. A recent article in the Progressive Forage Magazine titled “Silage pricing: Did you account for the manure?” highlighted this topic.

Drought Stressed Corn for Silage

Harvesting drought-stressed corn as silage may be an option to salvage the crop and also produce needed forage. Producers considering harvesting drought stressed corn should also evaluate the impact of doing so to future crop production.

In the July 28 issue of CropWatch, Bob Klein, Wester Nebraska Crops Specialist at the UNL West Central Research and Extension Center, addresses this topic in a Cropwatch article, “Should You Hay or Cut Silage from Drought-Damaged Corn Fields?” (direct link: http://cropwatch.unl.edu/2017/should-you-hay-or-cut-silage-drought-damaged-corn-fields)

The quality of drought-stressed corn silage can vary, but is usually 85 to 95 percent of the energy value of regular corn silage. With drought-stressed corn, caution should be used in harvesting if high nitrates are present. Ensiling can reduce nitrates by 40-60 percent.

For more information on feeding and pricing drought damaged corn silage, please see these links at the beef.unl.edu website:

For more information on harvesting, storing and feeding corn silage, see the video presentations from the 2016 Silage for Beef Cattle Conference at the beef.unl.edu website.