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Cutting corn silage an option to feed cattle in drought

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The drought that first hit western Kentucky and spread to the rest of the state in late June has taken a toll on this year’s corn crop.  Many grain farmers are looking at options to salvage especially poor crops.  Cutting silage for cattle feed is an option. 

Before cutting corn for silage, there are two things that should be done:

1) Test the corn for potentially high nitrate levels.  High nitrate levels in silage can kill animals.  Although proper ensilaging can reduce levels by half, it can still be potentially high.

Contact your crop insurance agent.  Corn that was insured for grain harvest can generally be released for silage cutting, but you first need to contact your crop insurance agent, and ultimately talk to an adjuster about how they will determine the grain yield.  This needs to be done before the crop is cut for silage.

Once these things have been done, and assuming neither presents a problem, then the silage needs to be valued.  This is done in two ways: 1) from the perspective of the grain farmer, and 2) from the perspective of the livestock farmer.  Both will have a unique perspective and the two values will generally be quite different.  It is only when there is an overlap in values that both could benefit from cutting corn for silage.

If for example, the silage is worth a minimum of $20/ton to the grain farmer, and it is worth a maximum of $40/ton for the cattle farmer, then there is room to negotiate a price in between that both would benefit from.  However, if the silage was worth a minimum of $30/ton to the grain farmer and was worth a maximum of $20/ton for the cattle farmer, then there would not be any room to negotiate and it would not be cut for silage.

Although there are a lot of variables that individual grain and cattle farmers need to estimate as they work through this process, the following general statements can be made for this year. 

1) If the corn is going to yield above 60 bushels it would be hard for the cattle feeding value to be worth more than the grain value with corn prices above $7/bu. 

2) If the corn is going to yield less than 20 bushels, in most cases the cattle feeding value would be worth more than the grain value.

3) If the corn yield is somewhere between 20 and 60 bushels then both parties need to carefully evaluate the grain and silage values.  There still may be potential for an overlap in values, but it needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

For additional information on the economics behind cutting corn for silage, contact the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 732-7030.

Dates of Interest

Aug.  1 – Carroll County Agricultural Development Council Meeting, 8:00pm, Carroll County Extension Office.

Aug. 9 – Carroll County Cattleman’s Association Meeting, 6:30 pm, Carroll County Extension Office.

Christin Herbst is the Carroll County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to Christin.Herbst@uky.edu.