Forage pricing a challenge due to crop development variations

Ray Mueller
How do you price standing corn when its height varies from 2 to 10 feet within 50 feet in a field?

MILLHOME – How do you price standing corn when its height varies from 2 to 10 feet within 50 feet in a field?

“Help” is the answer that Outagamie County Extension Service crops and soils agent Kevin Jarek gave to attendees at the recent “Meeting Tomorrow's Feeding Challenges Today” seminar here and in Kimberly.

“I don't know what to tell you, said Jarek. "Whatever the circumstances, the best way to start is to identify a ceiling price (minus harvest cost) for the buyer and a floor price (cost of production) for the seller in order to determine a fair market price. But don't negotiate for nickels.”

Because of the wide variations in-field crop condition this year, Jarek recommends setting a price by weight rather than by acre and finding a scale on which to verify wagon or truck load weights. Given the high moisture levels in most fields and the frequency of rains through late September, he also mentioned the concern about soil compaction on the part of the landowner.

Numbers game

Looking at numbers, Jarek noted that average silage corn yields during 2017 and 2018 in east central counties were 19 to 20 wet tons per acre, that typical production costs are over $600 per acre, and that a fairly well accepted pricing formula suggests a dry matter per ton corn silage price of 5.1 to 8.6 times the value of the number of bushels of grain in that ton.

Kevin Jarek

The 5.1 to 8.6 multiples correlate to grain yields of less than 90 to between 230 to 250 bushels per acre. At a recent corn grain price of $3.55 per bushel, the highest yielding corn could earn a price of up to $32 per ton of corn silage, Jarek indicated.

In order of importance for dairy nutritionists, other factors for pricing corn silage are the dry matter content at the time of harvest, protein percentage, neutral detergent fiber digestibility, and relative feed quality, Jarek continued. He also expects “a ton of disease pressure.”

Waiting game

“I have no idea on how long we will have to wait” for much of the corn to reach the ideal moisture content for ensiling, Jarek confessed. With the weather not cooperating to advance the maturity, he said the timetable for projecting moisture percentages does not seem to be working this year.

Based on the first sets of corn drydown tests, even a raising of the cutterbar to leave a longer stubble appears not to apply this year, Jarek continued. Increasing the cutting height to 18 inches from 6 inches would reduce the per acre yield by about 15 percent and increase the projected milk yield per ton while reducing the per acre milk acre by only 3 to 4 percent, he said.

Adding to the difficulty of harvesting choices is great difference in corn ear size.

Adding to the difficulty of harvesting choices is great difference in corn ear size, including a few with the most rows of kernels – 22 – that Jarek has ever seen. At best, he hopes for a repeat of 2005, when there was a very late freeze.

For additional guidance on pricing corn silage, check the apps, spreadsheets, and tools provided on the website or contact the county Extension Service office, Jarek advised. The website has postings by Extension Service corn agronomist Joe Lauer on how to deal with the growing and harvesting conditions created by the 2019 corn crop.

Alfalfa anxieties

“I have a bad feeling about hay inventory” although the recent price for high quality dry alfalfa hay averaged $219 per ton compared to $260 in June, Jarek said. He advises hay buyers to insist on a quality test.

In recent years, there has been a change in the valuing of dry alfalfa hay at area hay market auctions, Jarek reported. He said the former formula of multiplying the relative feed value (RFV) number by 90 cents to $1 has been replaced with a new RFV point rate of $1.50, thereby raising the value of one ton of 150 RFV hay from $143 to $225.

For alfalfa haylage, Jarek mentioned prices of about $100 per ton on an as fed basis at 62 percent moisture.

As to how high dry hay prices can go, especially when the buyer needs to feed horses, Jarek cited a report from Ohio. At an auction there, anxious buyers bid the price up to $65 per bale for the 15 small bales (about 40 pounds each) that were offered at the sale.

Multiple observations

The late season salvage effort to stock up on forages is rooted in the late planting of much of the 2019 corn, not to mention the approximately 20 million non-planted acres in the United States that were intended for planting, Jarek pointed out. In Outagamie County alone, there were about 25,000 non-planted acres.

On any acres on which the intended crop was not planted but winter wheat was placed there as a cover crop, do not plant winter wheat there this autumn for harvesting next year, Jarek warned. If the cover or substitute forage cover crop was oats and peas instead, it's acceptable to follow with winter wheat even if the oats was infected with rust, he stated.

Other unusual practices that Jarek observed this year included some success with planting sorghum-sudan into alfalfa, industrial hemp stands infested with lambsquarter, new alfalfa in grain cover crops that were never harvested, and field tiling on some of the land that was not planted.

With any sorghum-sudan that is not harvested before a killing freeze, wait for at least 10 days after the freeze in order to be free of prussic acid, he cautioned.

Jarek doesn't expect any corn stover to be harvested this year nor is he aware of anyone thinking about harvesting immature soybeans for silage.

Jarek can be reached by e-mail to or by phone to (920) 832-5128.