Silage or Grain?

10 Things to Think About When it Comes to Silage

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Transportation and storage costs will be important considerations this year for silage sellers and buyers. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Rick Mooney)

Every year, and every region, is different when it comes to the silage or grain decision. An updated cost analysis was just released by University of Missouri Extension to help producers make that decision. MU Extension economist, Ray Massey said producers need to look at pricing options, as well as delivery costs.

-- Defining silage. This is the harvest of whole corn plants at 60% to 70% moisture. Optimal harvest is when kernels are at the half milk line to black layer. Silage can come from corn planted specifically for this purpose, or from corn planted as a grain crop.

-- Drought may make silage the better choice. In some cases, drought will reduce grain yield to the point that the crop is worth more as silage than as grain.

-- Silage impacts soil nutrients. Harvesting for silage removes more nutrients from the soil, especially phosphorus and potassium. That means producers incur extra expenses to replace those nutrients. There is a flip side to this, though. In some cases, like where there are intensive manure-spreading areas, producers want to remove nutrients to help reduce runoff. In this scenario, planting corn for silage can be a deliberate and successful management tactic.

-- Fertilizer prices trend higher. DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn tracks retail fertilizer prices. He noted in his most recent article that for the month of August all eight of the major fertilizers were higher, when compared to July. In the case of potassium (potash), he reported price was up 4%, equal to about $20, for a total of $569 per ton. For phosphorus (DAP), he reported a small month-over increase of around 1%, taking it to $697 per ton. To see the full article, go to:…

-- Silage value per ton has changed, too. Missouri economist Massey said the general rule of thumb has been that silage's value per ton is eight to 10 times the price of a bushel of corn (pricing silage in the field). Given today's higher grain prices, he said that figure should be reconsidered, and estimates the price is closer to seven times that of a bushel of corn.

-- Dry matter percentage matters. This percentage has a big impact on the value of silage to livestock producers. They will need to know the cost of silage (on a dry matter basis) delivered to the feed bunk, after accounting for storage loss and shrink. This allows comparison to the delivered cost per ton of other feedstuffs.

-- Consider the extra costs. Harvest, shrink, drying, transport and storage all play a role in the economics of silage. Silage harvest, for example, requires specialized equipment, such as a chopper and a wagon. When it comes to transport and storage, every operation and region is different. Check prices before making a final decision.

-- Breakeven factors to watch. For a standing crop, farmers can estimate a breakeven price to harvest silage over grain, and let this be the lower boundary price for negotiating with livestock producers who may want to purchase and harvest a field for silage. Farmers will need to consider expected grain yield, and negotiate to determine who pays for harvest and transportation.

-- Calculate the value of standing grain. Estimate yield per acre by harvesting a sample area of the field. One easy method is to harvest by hand grain from 174 feet of corn planted in 30-inch rows. This gives an estimate of the grain yield of 1/100th of an acre. Multiply this by 100 to estimate yield per acre.

-- Look out for aflatoxin. In drought-stressed corn silage, aflatoxin, or other mycotoxins, are always a concern. Improper moisture levels at ensilaging, or a lack of proper packaging, can make this worse. Separate suspect silage, and always test it before feeding livestock.


Editor's Note: For detailed tables and guidance on valuing corn silage, go to "Pricing Corn Silage" at…

Victoria Myers can be reached at

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Victoria Myers