Baling Corn Stalks - What do You Gain? What do You Lose?
With this year’s prolonged drought and the shortage of feed, many farmers baled and sold their corn stalks to replace roughage and feed lost because of the shortage of alfalfa and grain. The questions are, “What is gained by harvesting the stalks and what is lost for next year’s crop?”
The gain was feed for those who needed it and some income for those whose crop was shorted this year. Prices for baled corn stalks vary greatly and can be anywhere from $30 to $65 per bale, and higher in some areas. If a farmer was able to get three bales per acre, the potential income generated could range from $90 to $195 per acre. That added income may really help in a year where dryland crop yields were very low.
What is lost by doing this? This can be very tricky depending on the amount of stover removed, the existing fertility level in the field, and the crop to be planted next spring. It becomes an estimate as to what is lost. If corn is planted on the ground next year there could be a loss of 2 to 3 bushels per acre due to residue removal. About 2 to 2.5 tons of residues are removed per acre when the stalks are baled. In terms of fertility, about $15 worth of nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur, and lime per ton are removed. When stover is harvested, approximately 16 lbs. of nitrogen, 5.8 lbs. of phosphorus, 40 lbs. of potassium, 5 lbs. of magnesium, and 3 lbs. of sulfur are removed for each ton of stover harvested per acre.1 The loss of residue and organic matter can increase the potential for wind and water erosion and water evaporation. Moisture is required to release the potassium from the residue; therefore, if moisture is insufficient during the winter and spring, it may not be released to leach back into the soil. These are hard to put a value on but can definitely have an effect on next year’s crop.
So it looks like a wash as to what is gained or lost, but it is important to take a soil test this spring to see what nutrients are needed for the crop that will be planted.