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October 8, 2010
Have You Heard?
By Randy Pryor
IS BALING CORN STALKS WORTH IT?
Your corn field was just combined. Now you are wondering if you should bale some of the stalks and sell them. Is it worth it? Bruce Anderson, UNL forage specialist, says to look at this question at several different angles.
What are corn stalk bales worth? One way to look at it is from the cost stand point. Nutrients removed by stalk bales may need to be replaced with extra fertilizer. Using fall 2010 prices, stalks contain about twelve to thirteen dollars worth of nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur, and lime per ton.
Corn stalk removal also can reduce soil organic matter, increase soil erosion risk, and increase soil water evaporation. Nebraska research shows that on average, dryland corn yield declines about two bushels for each ton of residue removed while irrigation costs increase similarly to maintain corn yield.
Labor and equipment costs average twenty to twenty-five dollars per ton and baling stalks tends to cause more wear and tear on equipment than other baling operations. Totaled together, these costs amount to fifty to fifty-five dollars per ton of corn stalks removed.
University of Nebraska has researched distillers grain-corn stalk ration with added minerals and urea compared to a conventional alfalfa, corn silage, corn, and supplement ration fed to heifers weighing 450 and 850 pounds. Researchers fed the following ration to the 850 pound heifers to achieve average daily gain of 1.8 pounds a day (all feeds are expressed on a 100% dry matter basis): 5.6 lb of distillers grain, 12.3 lb of corn stalks, 0.05 lb of limestone, 0.04 lb of trace mineral salt, 0.14 lb of urea, and 0.01 lb of vitamin ADE premix.
Comparable weight gains and wither/hip height grow rates were achieved compared to the traditional heifer ration; but the cost per day for the conventional ration was $1.26 per heifer per day compared to $0.40 per heifer per day for the distillers grain-corn stalk ration. For smaller heifers (450 pound heifers), the cost for conventional ration was 70 cents per heifer per day compared to 27 cents per heifer per day. The distillers grain-corn stalk ration could also be fed to dry cows (similar to the high straw based diets).
Now, what are corn stalks worth as a feed? One rule of thumb suggests the dollar feeding value is midway between that of straw and prairie hay. But feed value of stalks varies greatly. For example, if everything is baled, you may only have three to four percent protein and less than fifty percent TDN. Harvest just the tailings and two or three rows behind the combine and TDN increases to the lower fifties and protein to about five percent. But you should test to make sure.
Are baled corn stalks worthwhile? These numbers suggest they are if you can sell them for over sixty or buy them for less than forty dollars per ton. In between, it’s going to depend a lot on your individual ability to either cut costs or feed efficiently.
If you are lucky enough to have a livestock operation nearby and you sell stalklage, ask for a good deal on some manure in return for a win-win situation for you and your neighbor.