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Serving: WI
tractors, harvesting equipment and grain bins
EXPLORING OPTIONS: After this year’s challenging harvest, many producers are considering different harvest options that reduce costs or spread the window of opportunity.

Harvesting high-moisture corn makes sense

Agrivision: After two wet years in a row, many farmers are exploring harvest options.

Editor’s note: After more than 15 years of writing the Agrivision column, Eden, Wis., dairy farmer Doug Hodorff has retired from writing for the Wisconsin Agriculturist. Tom Kestell, who farms 600 acres and milks 130 registered Holstein cows with his family in Waldo, Wis., has joined the Agrivision team.

My dad and I farm 425 acres and milk 110 Holstein cows with a 26,000-pound herd average. We managed to finish harvesting our corn by Nov. 15, but it was a major challenge. With the last two years being so wet, I think it would be a good idea to buy a used Harvestore to put our corn in. That way, we could combine it a month earlier and store, and feed high-moisture corn instead of hauling our corn to town and paying for it to be dried and stored at the mill. It probably wouldn’t take long for it to pay for itself. What are your thoughts?

Tom Kestell: Great idea. Your situation is very similar to my own. I also farm with my son and milk around 100 cows. I have been feeding high-moisture corn for over 50 years and have tried several different ways to harvest and store this valuable crop. I have settled on shell corn harvested at 28% to 32% moisture, stored whole kernel and rolled before feeding. I would suggest finding an experienced and reputable dealer to purchase an upright silo. I would replace the standard roof with a stainless-steel roof, because this is the first thing that will be needing replacement on a corn unit. 

Talk to owners of corn units who have experience in their use, and be sure to put the silo in a location that is both easy to fill and convenient to use. Make sure it fits into future plans. I truly feel this is one of the best investments that can be made on a farm like yours. You will save money on trucking, drying of the corn, shrink, in and out charges, grinding costs and storage bills. The list is almost endless. Another big plus is that if you grow great corn, you get to feed your corn every day plus early harvest, early fall tillage and the opportunity to harvest the stalks — too many pluses to mention them all. Good luck with your decision; it’s a good one!

Sam Miller: Harvesting corn earlier as high moisture can provide you with options, if you are able. You will have high-moisture corn for feed, and if conditions don’t allow for harvest at the appropriate moisture, you can harvest as dry corn. There are more options than buying a used Harvestore silo. You could use bags or even a bunker silo to store high-moisture corn. Analyze the costs, benefits and drawbacks of different storage options. 

Erecting a silo or building a bunker will require a capital investment and additional costs for property tax and insurance, while bags are a variable cost for plastic. Feeding and handling considerations will also need to be taken into account, whether it is a mechanical unloader for an upright silo versus a skid steer or payloader for bunkers and bags. Visit with your nutritionist about storing and feeding options for high-moisture versus dry corn. He or she will be able to assist with preservatives or treatments for stored high-moisture corn. First, evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of high-moisture corn, then the fixed and variable costs of storage solutions. Good luck with your analysis.

Katie Wantoch: After this year’s difficult harvest, many producers are exploring harvest options that lower costs or spread the window. Much expense and time go into harvesting and storing good-quality forage. Harvesting corn as high-moisture grain is one option that will eliminate grain drying costs and produce a product that makes excellent feed. Greg Lardy, North Dakota State University animal science professor, says high-moisture corn offers many advantages for producers who feed beef or dairy cattle. However, successfully using high-moisture corn requires attention to harvest timing, processing, storage conditions and feeding management. Lardy indicates bunker or trench silos are the best option for large volumes of corn harvested in a short period of time.

During feedout, the face of the bunker must be kept fresh to avoid heating, so the width of the high-moisture corn bunker should match the rate of use. Multiple narrower bunkers may be more useful than one wide bunker silo. Bunkers constructed of a cement base and sides will reduce spoilage better than earthen structures and provide a firm surface for equipment throughout the year. Also, all bunker, trench and pile structures should be covered with plastic to create an anaerobic environment and minimize spoilage. Whole high-moisture corn may be stored in certain types of oxygen-limiting silos. Check with the manufacturer to be sure the silo is designed to handle whole high-moisture corn prior to placing grain in the structure.

Mutual opportunity

I milk 75 cows and farm 250 acres in central Wisconsin. I finished combining my corn Nov. 5, and then I helped my neighbor finish harvesting his corn 10 days later. My neighbor is 75 and is slowing down a bit. I’m thinking of offering to rent 100 acres of his corn ground next year so I hopefully don’t have to help him, and I have enough feed for my cows, heifers and steers, and maybe a little extra to sell. I think he will want $150 an acre. It’s productive land and only a mile down the road from my farm. My corn averaged 185 bushels this year and was 22% moisture. Please advise.

Tom Kestell: From your letter, it seems you and your neighbor are doing a fine job. The rent price you suggested is in the reasonable bracket for both renter and owner. Farming relationships are more than just about money. At 75, I’m sure your neighbor is beginning to slow down, but maybe is not ready to be put out to pasture just yet. I would suggest — if you have a good working relationship — that he could still assist you with the crop. This will give him a sense of involvement and make his transition easier and lighten your workload. Experienced hands are always a blessing. Good luck.

Sam Miller: Complete a partial budget analysis of renting and operating the additional 100 acres versus buying an equivalent amount of corn. This analysis should include the cost to grow the crop divided by the expected yield resulting in a cost of production per bushel. Compare this cost to corn from your local elevator or feed mill. The costs will include seed, fertilizer, chemicals, rent, labor, an equipment charge for growing and harvesting, insurance, fuel, and other costs. Once calculated, you can determine if rent of $150 per acre is reasonable versus purchasing corn. Your banker, Extension ag agent or technical college farm trainer can assist in calculating this analysis. Good luck evaluating your options.

Katie Wantoch: These past few years have been challenging in the agriculture economy and weather conditions throughout the growing season. Many farmers, regardless of age or length of time involved in agriculture, are considering what their future holds for them after enduring these challenges. There may be opportunities this winter for you to consider renting additional farmland and reducing your need for purchased feed. I would encourage you to complete a financial analysis to ensure you are managing this additional risk for your farm operation.

While you’ll be able to freely make management decisions on this rented land, you will be taking on increased risk from price and yield variations. Do you have the capacity to manage this risk, such as operating capital or credit to fund crop inputs, along with equipment and labor to assist in planting and harvesting? If your neighbor is open to the idea, he might be considering how his farmland can retain the land as an investment for security, retirement income, income tax deferral and sentimental reasons. Be sure to discuss your goals with your neighbor and explore his goals to see if he would be open to starting a new agreement with you on this farmland.

Agrivision panel: Tom Kestell, Sheboygan County, Wis., dairy farmer; Sam Miller, managing director, group head of agricultural banking, BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Dunn County, Wis., Extension ag agent specializing in economic development. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to: Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919; or email fran.oleary@farmprogress.com.

TAGS: Corn Feed Dairy
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