Each month in Wallaces Farmer magazine, the Timely Tips panel answers questions sent by readers. Members of the Timely Tips panel are: Alejandro Plastina, Wendong Zhang, Extension economists, Iowa State University; Leslie Miller, Iowa State Savings Bank, Knoxville; Rob Stout, Master Farmer, Washington, Iowa. Following are the questions they are answering this month.
Drought curtailed our 2017 hay and corn crops. Hay is pricey. We didn’t get enough of our own cornstalks baled. We’re trying to decide whether to buy cornstalk bales, or run our cows down the road to our own cornfields for grazing. Having the cows down the road raises concern about getting them home before a blizzard hits. The quality of baled stalks we can buy appears highly variable. Poor-quality baled stalks make good bedding and should be cheaper than buying straw. How do we assess the feed value of baled cornstalks with varying quality? How can we figure how much to pay for good-quality stalks to feed? How much can we pay for lower-quality stalks for bedding?
Stout: It is preferable to run your cows on your own stalks as you get the benefit of cleaning up any dropped ears and turning it into a growing calf with fertilizer out the back end. You need to be vigilant about getting them to your home farm if there is a forecast for severe weather.
As far as prices for cornstalk bales, it varies a lot by location, time of year and size of bale. Range would probably be between $30 and $50 for bedding quality to good feeding quality.
Your feed nutritionist is the best person to ask about supplement for your cows; you’ll need more than just cornstalks, especially as cows reach their third trimester of gestation. The other advantage to field grazing is the cows usually need less supplementation as they are able to glean more corn as well as waterway grass and fencerow grass.
Plastina: Two sources of hay and straw prices in Iowa are the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and the Internet Hay Exchange. These sources are available online and are frequently updated.
USDA’s “Iowa Hay Summary” is at ams.usda.gov/market-news/search-market-news. Type in the report number NW-GR-312 in the first row of empty boxes. After clicking the button “Go” at the bottom of the page, you will see a list of archived reports, starting from the most recent to the oldest. Not all hay, straw and corn fodder prices by types and qualities are reported in every single edition of the publication. You might need to review more than one report to find the reported price for a particular combination of hay type, quality and bale shape and size, or corn fodder quality and bale size.
The Internet Hay Exchange is a website that lists offerings of hay and straw by zip code, quality, bale size and other characteristics. It sometimes includes an asking price, and other times provides a phone number to contact and ask the price. Visit hayexchange.com/index.php.
Miller: In our area, quality baled cornstalks are selling for $30 per bale. If baling them yourself, you are probably removing enough nutrients that you’ll spend an extra $15 to $20 on fertilizer to replace those nutrients, plus you’ll have the cost of baling. Some states even have a law that if you remove stalks, your landlord can ask for extra money. So, if you can get them bought for $30 that may be the way to go.
Most producers grind hay and stalks and dried distillers grain together. Adding cornstalks slows the movement of feed through the rumen so that the cows get better nutritional value out of the DDG. Your feed dealer can sample and test the feed value of your hay and stalks to have accurate information to use in suggesting the appropriate rations.
We get bombarded with information about seminars. The price tag is often hefty, plus travel and overnight expenses. How do we sort out which ones might pay? My brother and I farm together, and our wives work off the farm. If we go to one and take them along, can we write the trip off as a business expense?
Stout: I’m a firm believer in continuing education for farmers. Agriculture is changing fast, and to keep up we must continue to learn. If you are not a lifelong learner, then you are falling behind. There are a lot of local and regional seminars where you can get information without the big expenses of travel and hotels. If you attend a seminar that requires distant travel and overnight stays, I think it would be deductible, but that’s a question for your tax preparer.
Miller: Seminars don’t have to be pricey. Check out the Extension Service of your state’s land-grant university. Extension experts offer very reasonably priced seminars with excellent, research-based information. The best part is they aren’t trying to sell you anything. You will get the unvarnished truth!
If you want to take a trip to a warm location to attend a seminar, it could be considered a business expense for all those actively involved in the farm operation. If you take spouses who work off the farm, the cost of their attendance might also be a legitimate expense if they are involved in farm business decisions and attend the educational sessions. With the new tax law, it is probably a good idea to check with your tax professional.
Zhang: It’s now more valuable than ever to know good marketing and management strategies; attending good seminars certainly is one of the most effective ways. As an ISU Extension economist, I encourage you to start with a series of meetings offered by our farm management specialists team and Extension agronomists.
We at the public university offer research-based, unbiased Extension education. For example, we just finished this year’s Pro-Ag outlook and management meetings across the state, and many of us are presenting at the Crop Advantage Series meetings in January.
Another cost-effective method is to check out and subscribe to the Ag Decision Maker newsletters offered by ISU Extension. Also, ISU ag economists Chad Hart and Lee Schulz have a monthly Iowa Farm Outlook blog. Any ISU Extension field specialist covering your area would be happy to discuss your particular situation and offer more targeted advice as well.