GOSHEN COUNTY – It’s doubtful that many local farmers set aside the majority of their corn crop with the intention to make it into silage.
It’s a versatile grain and it’s used in nearly everything from livestock feed – which is the main use – to products consumed by humans, and it can be used for biofuels. The average American would be hard-pressed to find something in their kitchen that doesn’t have some type of corn product in it.
Unfortunately for farmers in Goshen County and the Nebraska panhandle, silage might be one of the best remaining options for their crops after a collapsed irrigation tunnel along the Fort Laramie canal resulted in a projected yield loss of 100 percent for hundreds of families along the canal. The collapse left over 100,000 acres of farmland without an irrigation source.
According to University of Nebraska Panhandle Research Center Cow/Calf Specialist Karla Wilke, silage may be an option for the ruined crop.
“Without irrigation water and adequate rainfall, taking the corn to full maturity and grain production may not be the best option for the crop,” Wilkes wrote in an article for UNL’s Cropwatch. “Producers with a corn crop impacted by the canal breach may want to consider making corn silage out of this year’s crop.”
According to Wilkes, there is a formula for producers to figure out if silage would be a worthy use of their crops. That formula is available through the University of Nebraska in NebGuide issue G1865, “The Use and Pricing of Drought-Stressed Corn,” which can be found online.
The formula guide, written by UNL Extension Educator Thomas Dorn, forage specialist Bruce Anderson and beef specialist Richard Rasby, said feeding silage made from drought-stressed corn is preferable to other feeding methods that use drought-stressed corn.
“The feed value of drought-stressed corn silage is usually 90 to 100 percent of the feed value of normal corn silage even though the percentage of grain in the drought-stressed silage is less than in normal silage,” the guide said. “This is because the metabolites that would normally be deposited in the grain are still present in the stalks and leaves of the drought-stressed plants.”
There are a few factors the farmers will need to consider before choosing to turn their crop into silage. Wilkes wrote that producers need to ensure that using the crop for silage won’t affect crop insurance payouts.
“Producers need to talk to crop adjustors, insurance agents, and Farm Service Agency employees to determine how harvesting the crop for silage instead of grain will impact pay out on crop insurance or government programs,” Wilkes wrote.
The UNL and University of Wyoming Extension offices have provided a trove of information on making their crops into silage, as well as other resources for the producers affected by the collapse at go.unl/edu/canal.
Farmers have to consider if it would be a profitable effort to turn corn into silage, or if they would even be able to, given which chemicals the plants were treated with before the collapse. But for some, silage may be a way to get some sort of harvest from a disastrous season.
“Harvesting silage from drought stressed corn may be an option to make the best of a challenging situation,” Wilkes wrote. “Thoroughly evaluating all the implications of chopping corn for silage is important. Drought-stressed corn can still make excellent feed.