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More Iowa farmers relying on corn stover

Published: Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 11:35 a.m. CST

CEDAR RAPIDS (AP) — When Iowa farmers were done harvesting this year’s drought-stunted 2012 corn crop this fall, many of them didn’t stop there.

They returned to the fields to chop and rake the dried cornstalks into round bales that, at first glance, don’t look much different from hay bales.

The material is known as corn stover. Experts say farmers began harvesting more of it in the last few years of rising hay and grain prices, and harvested a lot more of it this year as the 2012 drought drove hay prices to record levels.

Corn stover is different from silage, a livestock feed typically made by chopping up green corn plants and storing the material in a silo for partial fermentation. It is dry and course, but cattle will eat it, particularly when they have nothing better.

“It’s really not much more than filler,” said Erle Driscoll of Waldrige Farms near Williamsburg, which produces organic corn and breeds Angus cattle.

Driscoll said corn stover doesn’t do much more than satisfy the animal’s appetite unless it’s mixed with other ingredients. Waldrige Farms mixes it with high-quality hay, vitamins and minerals, to stretch the volume of feed from its hay output every year.

Iowa State University Extension Beef Specialist Denise Schwab is among the livestock production experts who are seeing an increase in reliance on corn stover. She said many farmers were using corn stover for livestock bedding, and converting the corn stover into livestock feed adds little complexity to the process.

Farmers need to know the right mix of vitamins and minerals to add to the stover to feed their cattle, Schwab said. They often chop the stover in a tub grinder to make it easier for cattle to digest.

Demand for corn stover is high enough that some livestock producers who don’t grow enough themselves buy it from their neighbors, and it occasionally makes it to hay auctions.