Use these tips to price corn silage

Corn_HarvestWEBBy Dan Martens
University of Minnesota Extension

We’re starting to get some questions about pricing corn silage. In some cases livestock producers are short on feed and some crop producers are long on corn that might not make good mature grain — again this year.

Farmers, who are thinking about buying or selling corn or corn silage out of the field, should start discussions early and consider a range of factors that are useful in this conversation. Livestock producers should include their nutrition adviser in discussions about rations.

The price of other feed options can be a factor in how we think about the price of a given feed like corn silage. Corn silage might be thought about as a combination of grain related to the amount of corn that is there and grass forage related to corn stalks and leaves.

Most grain and forage markets are a little unsettled now as we wait to see how the crop really turns out; and as we move from hay harvest to the winter hay market season. Buyers and sellers need to think about what makes sense to them.

Another approach is to consider the net value of the corn crop if it were harvested as grain and sold. The crop grower’s net value is what they will get paid at the elevator after moisture and quality adjustments are made minus any harvest, drying, hauling and storage costs. If a livestock producer harvests corn for silage, high moisture grain or earlage — the grain farmer will not have these costs. The fodder part of the corn can be considered for its value as feed, bedding or returned to the soil.

One of the general guidelines for pricing corn silage that I and others have talked about over the years is that the price of a ton of “normal” corn silage standing in the field might be worth 6 to 8 times the price of corn. Some value might be added for the forage.

Be careful with how you use this. This is based on field trials showing that normal corn silage might have 6 to 8 bushels of corn in a ton of corn silage. Some articles offer ways to make adjustments if the crop is drought stressed or freezes before maturity and for other factors like moisture and others.

Growers will usually consider whether a price times yield will cover their production costs and a return to labor and management — making a living. Just as a lower price for grain corn might not cover the cost of production in some situations this year, the corresponding price for corn silage might not cover these costs. Some crop producer’s will be working with crop insurance adjusters this fall and eventually looking at provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill to see if they can make up the difference.

Wisconsin Extension monitored fields over several years. With yields averaging from 25 to 200 bushels per acre and moisture ranging from 60 to 70 percent moisture, the averages ranged from 3.1 to 8.6 bushels per ton. The range in individual fields was from 0 to 12 bushels per ton.

Moisture content alone makes a huge difference. The Wisconsin article lists averages for bushels of corn per ton of silage at different yield levels. In their data at 125 bushels per acre for example, if chopped at 60 percent moisture, they averaged 14.6 tons of corn silage per acre and 8.5 bushels of corn per ton. If chopped at 70 percent moisture, they averaged 19.5 tons per acre and only 6.4 bushels per ton — because of the weight of the extra water.

It’s a good idea to test corn silage samples to get a better idea of what feed quality is like. It can be challenging to get a representative sample. A feed test can be useful in considering pricing as well as formulating rations. Moisture, protein, starch, sugar, energy, digestibility, milk per ton and nitrate-nitrogen are some numbers that can be useful. Starch can be used to calculate pounds or bushels of corn per ton. The fodder has value too. Corn silage with very little corn can have 70 to 90 percent of the feed value of normal corn silage depending on various factors. A feed test can provide feed quality information.

You can do a website search for “Wisconsin Extension Corn Silage” to find articles on these topics including spreadsheets and worksheets. An Excel spreadsheet with input for feed values, grain harvest values, hauling costs, plow-down fertilizer values, and other factors is listed as “Corn Silage Pricing Decision Aid.”

Do some of your own thinking about the assumptions you use. A more general discussion is titled “Pricing Drought Stressed Corn Silage.” Again, think about your own situation.

You can guess and estimate as much as you like, and you can consider what might be useful and practical to measure, weigh and test.

Call the county Extension office for help in finding or getting a copy of Minnesota or Wisconsin Extension Articles that might be helpful. In Stearns County, (320) 255-6169 or (800) 450-6171; in Morrison County, (320) 632-0161 or (866) 401-1111; in Benton County, (320) 968-5077 or (800) 964-4929. Look for related information at the “Minnesota Extension” website.

Make safety a priority in the fall harvest season. It will likely be a long one again in 2014.