COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Prolonged drought is prompting some Midwest farmers to sell corn stalks they typically would treat as waste to feed hungry, hay-deprived cattle.
The Columbia Missourian (bit.ly/UTip1w) reports that area corn farmers are collecting stalks that usually are left in fields. The leftover stalks are known as corn stover.
A market summary compiled by the Missouri Department of Agriculture shows that corn stover is selling in the state for $60 to $100 per ton, or $35 to $45 per large round bale. The state agency didn't even track corn stover sales prices until this year, and nor does the National Agricultural Statistics Service, whose director says corn stover isn't typically considered a farm commodity.
"If you look at corn stover historically, it has really come into play this year," said Gary Wheeler, vice president of operations and grower services at the Missouri Corn Growers Association. "It has really helped out the corn growers and the cattle industry."
The U.S. Drought Monitor's latest weekly report shows that 60.1 percent of the continental U.S. was experiencing some degree of drought on Tuesday, the country's most widespread and sustained drought in decades. Nearly one-fifth of the contiguous U.S. remained in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst classifications.
Jefferson City farmer Jeff Fischer said he had harvested and baled the corn stalks on his 1,500 acres the past two years and plans to continue doing so to meet the demand. With his corn crop yielding just half of its anticipated production for the year, he considers stover a "value-added" crop.
"It's been profitable," he said.
Farmers' interest in harvesting corn stalks is prompting agricultural equipment manufacturers to build round balers specifically designed to handle corn stalks. A new round baler made by Deere and Co. includes features such as heavier teeth to pick up stalks of corn and stronger belts used to shape the round bale.
"It's a beefed-up version," said Keaton Wheelan, a salesman at Sydenstricker John Deere in Mexico, Mo.
But while stover harvesting may be a short-term fix for declining corn yields, it also can increase erosion and nutrient loss in some areas.
Glenn Davis, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service, said his agency recommends farmers not remove corn stalks on fields with slopes greater than 5 percent grade.
"The fields that have more slope are going to be more vulnerable," he said. "Many people undervalue the cost of erosion. That is a hidden cost."
Removing the stalks provides less soil cover to prevent erosion, Davis said - especially in the spring when there is a substantial amount of soil loss.
And when corn stalks are removed from a field, so are nutrients in the stalks that would have been put back into the soil, Davis said, although many of the nutrients lost during corn stover harvest can be replaced by nutrients in chemical fertilizers.
Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com