Mechanical stover harvest is facilitated by using a stalk shredding-type combine head during grain harvest and removing the chaff spreader from the rear of the combine. If a stripper head is used, an additional flail shredder or discbine pass will generally be required. Specialized combine attachments have been developed to windrow corn stover, but they are not necessary for a successful harvest. Raking may or may not be recommended based on an individual’s yield goal or the crop’s moisture level. While baling for dry storage can work in ideal circumstances, stover is often too wet to preserve in this manner. Ensiling chopped or baled material is often the best approach and also improves stover’s feed value.
At an average removal rate of two tons per acre, the fertilizer value of corn stover and equipment costs associated with harvest together total about $59 per ton. This is a great improvement over the current market value of $150 per ton for hay. Even with protein supplementation, a stover based ration could save $0.71 per head per day, or $127.61 per cow over a standard 181-day winter feeding period. Despite the potential savings, Michigan State University Extension recommends using ration balancing software when deciding how much stover to feed.
Corn stover has long been an important resource on the farm, but the number of ways it can be used is expanding. In addition to harvest as forage, the recent construction of ligno-cellulosic ethanol biorefineries in the Midwest has created market opportunities for corn farmers to sell stover biomass for processing into liquid fuel. Three ethanol plants in the central Corn Belt are now in the process of contracting with farmers to supply approximately 275,000 tons of corn stover per facility in 2014. These emerging markets provide practical ways for Michigan corn growers to extract additional value from their product and remain competitive.
- Sustainable Crop Removal: Maintaining Soil Quality, MSU Extension Bulletin E-3079
- Sustainable Corn Stover Harvest, Iowa Corn Promotion Board
- Corn Stover Harvesting, Cattle Call Vol 12, Iss 2