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Feeding for Profit

Multiple factors influence harvesting corn as silage or grain

Photo credit Troy Walz. University of Nebraska Walz corn.jpg
There are three points in time where corn silage is often priced: standing in the field, packed in the silo and delivered in the bunk.
Harvesting drought-stressed corn as silage may produce needed forage for cattle, but pricing corn silage can be highly variable process.

Ongoing dry and drought conditions in many parts of the Midwest are supporting hay and forage prices, Aaron Berger and Galen Erickson with the University of Nebraska wrote in a recent "Nebraska BeefWatch" newsletter.

Specific to Nebraska, they reported that perennial dryland hay production has been less than average, and annual forages planted for hay in the western third of the state look to be significantly below the long-term average in terms of production. This diminished production is going to result in less fall and winter grazing, Berger and Erickson added.

They noted that 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 on either side of $3.50/bu.

With harvested forage supplies being tight in much of Nebraska, harvesting corn for silage may be of interest this year, especially with fields that are drought stressed, Berger and Erickson said. Having the experience and facilities or area to put up silage is a very important consideration as well.

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, they said, because pricing corn silage can be a complex and highly variable process.

According to Berger and Erickson, there are three points in time where corn silage is often priced: standing in the field, packed in the silo and delivered in the bunk.

In the field

Berger and Erickson noted that University of Nebraska-Lincoln 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. So, corn at $3.00 bu. x 7.65 = $22.95 per ton in the field. They added that this accounts for not having to combine or haul grain to market but also should be harvest corn price, as storage costs are added to silage, yet corn price increases throughout the year due to storage, at least on average across many years of data.

In the silo

Harvest, hauling and packing expenses can vary, Berger and Erickson said, noting that the "2020 Nebraska Farm Custom Rates" survey showed a most common rate of $10 per ton. At $22.95 per ton plus $10 per ton for harvesting, hauling and packing, that equals $32.95 per ton in the silo. When $2 per ton is added for the storage expense, the price per ton is $34.95.

In the feed bunk

Corn silage, due to the ensiling process, will experience shrink and dry matter loss off 10-20% or more when silage is packed into the silo until it is removed to be fed, Berger and Erickson noted. With 10% dry matter shrink, the value of silage delivered to the bunk would be $38.83 per ton. If the shrink loss is 20%, then the value of silage would be $43.69 per ton. They pointed out that information is available on the beef.unl.edu website illustrating the impact of covering, packing and other management factors to decrease shrink.

Berger and Erickson noted that comparing corn silage under current market conditions to other feed resources can be helpful 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 cattle, which takes into account all waste loss and expense. The following examples are compared to one another on a price per pound of total digestible nutrients (TDN) on a dry matter basis delivered to the bunk.

  • Corn silage priced at $38.83 per ton that is 35% dry matter with a TDN value of 72% on a dry matter basis would cost 7.7 cents/lb. of TDN.
  • Corn silage priced at $43.69 per ton that is 35% dry matter with a TDN value of 72% on a dry matter basis would cost 8.6 cents/lb. of TDN.
  • Wet distillers grains plus solubles at $55 per ton delivered that is 35% dry matter has a TDN of 108% on a dry matter basis, and shrink of 5% would cost 7.2 cents/lb. of TDN.
  • Corn priced at $3.30/bu. (average price for the year if $3.00 at harvest) with a TDN value of 83% (note a TDN of 88-90% is in grain diets, not forage-based diets) on a dry matter basis would cost 8.4 cents/lb. of TDN.

Berger and Erickson added that there are several factors to consider when evaluating whether to harvest corn for grain or for silage. Both methods of harvest have advantages and disadvantages depending upon the goals and objectives of a cattle operation. Tight forage supplies and current corn market conditions may heighten the attractiveness of harvesting corn for silage this year.

They added that 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 cattle 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.

Drought-stressed corn for silage

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

The quality of drought-stressed corn silage can vary but is usually 85-95% of the energy value of regular corn silage, they said. A good measure to consider is doing a starch analysis: Dividing the starch percentage (dry matter basis) in corn silage by 0.70 gives an indication of the grain content in silage, which may be very important in drought-stressed or damaged silage.

With drought-stressed corn, caution should be used in harvesting if nitrates levels are high, Berger and Erickson said, noting that ensiling can reduce nitrates by 40-60%. Nitrates accumulate in the bottom of the stalk, so raising the cutting height can also affect final nitrate concentration in silages, but it affects yield as well.

TAGS: Beef
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