Grazing and baling corn stalks is a typical farm practice for many producers. Using the stover and fallen grain has feed value. Cows return manure and organic matter to the field, and stover bales can be used as part of low-cost winter feed rations for the cow herd.
Approximately 1 ton of stover is produced per 40 bushels of dry (10% moisture) corn. Grazing and baling generally removes 50 to 80% of the stover on the ground.
Reasons for Stover Removal
Low-cost feed and winter feed are some of the reasons for grazing and baling corn stover. Extending the grazing season and keeping cows out of feed yards allows for manure to be naturally replaced in the field without the use of equipment.
Non-cattle producers may also consider removing some stover from the field to warm the soil sooner in the spring. If the corn crop averaged 180 bushels per-acre, there are 4.5 tons of stover laying on the soil. The stover can be a blanket, keeping the spring sun from warming the soil and delaying planting.
Removing some of the stover may also make planting more manageable in the spring due to a reduction in ‘trash’ on the ground, especially in high-yielding corn fields.
Erosion should be one of the considerations before baling corn stover. Highly erodible fields, either from wind or water run-off, should be analyzed carefully before removing the stover.
Another consideration is nutrient removal. Some nutrients are in the stover, and if they are removed via grazing and baling, they must be replenished for the next crop. Additionally, fields low in organic matter may not be the best candidate for baling. Soil tests should be used to identify the nutrient needs of the next crop. The typical nutrient contents in stover and their value per-ton and total per-ton are in Table 1.
Based on those numbers, every ton of stover removed takes $27.61 of nutrients off. If 180 bushels of corn were grown, resulting in 4.5 tons of stover per-acre, and 50% of the stover was removed (2.25 tons), the nutrient value removed would be $62.12 per-acre.
|Element||Pounds Per-Ton||Nutrient Price||Nutrient Value Per-Ton|
|Phosphorus Pentoxide (P2O5)||4||$0.63||$2.52|
|Potassium Oxide (K2O)||34||$0.42||$14.28|
*Nutrient price will vary. Check with your local supplier.
The daily grazing rate allows flexibility for the landowner and the cattle owner, as they can monitor the amount of stover removed. As cattle generally consume dropped ears of corn and husks first, they can be removed before they move on to the leaves and stalks. If baling the acres, the amount of stover removed will depend on the equipment used. Baling alone will not remove as much of the stover as raking and baling or using a stalk chopper combined with raking and baling.
The value received for grazing corn stover runs $0.50 to $2.00 per-head, per-day, with many corn owners charging $1.50 per-head, per-day, and corn stover bales may sell from $70 to $90 per-ton.1
The landowner must compare the cost of nutrients removed from the field versus the income potential from selling the stalks. They will also want to consider the value of an earlier planting date and reduced stover to plant through.
Grazing and baling corn stalks may have financial and agronomic benefits for the landowner, as well as providing feed resources for cattle producers. Determine the correct amount of stover removal for the field based on corn yield, nutrient costs, amount of stover removed, and the value of the harvested product.
Reference and Additional Resources
- 1USDA South Dakota Direct Hay Report. AMS Livestock, Poultry and Grain Market News, November 3, 2023.
- Estimating a Value for Corn Stover. Edwards, William. Iowa State University.
- Corn Stover Removal: Nutrient value of stover and impacts on soil properties. Rees, Jenny, Marty Schmer, Charles Wortmann. UNL CropWatch, December 7, 2017.
- Crop residue removal: impacts on yield. Rees, Jenny, Marty Schmer, and Charles Wortmann. December 8, 2018.