Stover After Corn Harvest
After harvesting corn for grain, the stalks and cobs remain in the field after they pass through the combine. There are several options for using of the residue after grain harvest. Corn Stover Utilization Corn stover, which is often referred to as stalks, fodder or residue, can be used in various ways.
- Ground cover
Corn residue left in the field over winter can help prevent soil erosion by protecting the soil from wind and rain. For example, a 30% ground cover has shown to reduce erosion by over 50% compared to bare ground. Corn residue will also degrade over time, cycling nutrients back into the soil and adding to the soil’s organic matter. Heavy residue cover will help retain moisture but can also result in cooler soil temperatures the following spring and delay nutrient availability.
Proper residue management is important so that it doesn’t negatively affect the following crop. Uniformly distributing residue behind the combine, sizing residue with light tillage, applying starter fertilizer, and properly setting residue managers on the planter are all good ways to help manage residue for successful crop emergence.
If fence and water resources are available, corn stover can be utilized as an alternative forage and grazed. The nutritional profile of stover is greatest immediately after corn harvest, declining as time passes and weathering occurs. However, the nutritional value of stover after harvest can meet the nutritional requirements of mature, dry beef cows. For more information on nutrient requirements of various classes of livestock, visit this article.
However, because ground cover has benefits for the soil and subsequent crop production, it is important that not all corn stover is grazed The goal of 50-60% removal by grazing is obtained to ensure 40-50% of the residue remains throughout the winter.
Image: Average Percent Composition of Harvested Corn Residue — Dry Matter Basis
Source: Utilizing Corn Residue in Beef Cattle Diets — Publications (ndsu.edu)
- Baled and fed
Corn residue can be baled and fed as a roughage in ruminant livestock diets. Because the residue is greatest in nutrient content immediately after grain harvest, the sooner after combining the better for baling. However, this can present a challenge because often the stalks and leaves have greater moisture content than the grain at harvest, providing a challenge to bale the stalks soon after grain harvest, but after they have dried down to a safe moisture level for baling to reduce the incidence of spoilage, mold and heating.
Before baling, the residue is commonly chopped to reduce the particle size even further than what has already been done by the combine, then raked into a windrow. This also helps to reduce wear and tear on the baler.
Baled residue can be used as bedding for livestock; however, this is a less common occurrence. The dry leaves can be very absorbent and provide dryness and warmth to livestock in confinement.
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Dr. Jessica Williamson is the hay and forage specialist for AGCO. Jessica’s expertise is in forage quality, management and production, as well as ruminant nutrition and the plant-animal interaction. Jessica is responsible for designing and conducting field tests on hay and forage equipment; educating AGCO personnel and customers on forage management, production and livestock nutrition; and working with the Green Harvest team on ongoing forage projects.
Jessica holds a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science from Morehead State University (Morehead, Ky.); a Master of Science degree in animal science (ruminant nutrition) from the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.); and a Ph.D. in plant and soil science (forage agronomy) from the University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.). Jessica is originally from a cow-calf operation in western Maryland.