Ongoing dry and drought conditions in many parts of the state are supporting hay and forage prices as we look towards this fall. Perennial dryland hay production in many parts of Nebraska has been less than average.
With harvested forage supplies being tight, harvesting corn for silage may be a good option this year as corn prices are somewhat depressed by expectations of an adequate crop.
When evaluating whether to harvest a field for silage or grain, the issue of how to price and value the corn is often a point of uncertainty and is subject to variability. Corn silage is usually priced at one of three points—standing in the field, packed in the silo, and delivered in the bunk.
UNL research has shown that corn silage priced standing in the field before harvest should be valued at 7.65 x the price per bushel of corn where a ton of corn silage is harvested at 60-65% moisture. This multiplier value is consistent regardless of corn price. With the historic basis for corn, it is estimated that corn will be near $5.00 per bushel at harvest in Nebraska. Corn at $5.00 per bushel x 7.65 = $38.25 per ton in the field. This accounts for harvest grain price, not having to combine or haul grain to market, increased grain price due to storage, and the cost of silage storage.
When estimating costs in the silo, harvest, hauling and packing expenses can vary. The 2022 Nebraska Farm Custom Rates publication showed an average custom rate of $13.50 per ton. At $38.25 per ton in the field plus $13.50 per ton for harvesting, hauling, and packing we come out to $51.75 per ton in the pile. When $3 per ton is added for storage expense, the price per ton is $54.75.
When valuing silage out of storage and into the bunk, remember the ensiling process will cause shrink and dry matter loss from 10-20% or more from when silage is packed into the silo until it is removed to be fed. With 10% dry matter shrink, the value of silage delivered to the bunk would be $60.83 per ton. If the shrink loss is 20%, then the value of silage would be $68.44 per ton. Excellent information is available on the beef.unl.edu website illustrating the impact of covering, packing, and other management factors to decrease silage shrink.
One final thing to take into consideration. Harvesting drought stressed corn as silage may be an option to salvage the crop and produce needed forage. The quality of drought stressed corn silage can vary but is usually 85-95% the energy value of regular corn silage. A good measure to consider is doing a starch analysis. If you divide the starch % (DM basis) in corn silage by 0.70, that gives you an indication of the grain content as a percent in silage. With drought stressed corn, caution should be used in harvesting if high nitrates are present. While ensiling can reduce nitrates by 40-60%, cutting high in fields considered at risk for high nitrates may help reduce nitrate levels all be it at a reduction in yield.
-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison and Pierce. He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington. You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org