Second-Crop Corn Stover
Hay land replaced by cornfields could have hurt Brian Alff’s custom baling business in southwest Iowa. Instead, he adapted by adding corn stover baling to his services. His customers recognize the value of harvesting a second crop of what was once considered waste. Alff has learned that using the right equipment makes baling more efficient for a better product worth the extra cost.
Choosing the Right Equipment
The Carson, Iowa, farmer’s custom baling partner and father, Duane, suggested they purchase a windrowing crop shredder a couple of years ago when it was so dry that the hay rake pulled up root-balls filled with dirt.
Alff crunched the numbers and decided there was enough demand to make the investment. He purchased a pull-type, 20-foot Loftness windrower center discharge shredder. The machine has cupped 4.5-inch knives that spin at 1,450 rpms and shred crop residue in foot-long strips that are pulled by high-speed air to rear shields that flow to a discharge diffuser and onto the ground in clean windrows.
“There’s no dirt in the bale,” says Alff. “It picks up cobs and shelled corn and does a beautiful job.”
He says bales are up to 400 pounds heavier, weighing in at 1,200 to 1,400 pounds, than the ones he baled after windrowing with a hay rake.
The shredder’s knives cut open and shred the toughest Bt cornstalks. He no longer deals with rake teeth breaking and any worries that teeth might get baled up and damage grinding equipment or be eaten by livestock. The knives are good for about 3,000 acres before they need to be replaced. Alff says the shredder put too much strain on his 150-hp. tractor, so he switched to a 200-hp. tractor, which provided plenty of power and was more efficient.
“If farmers combine wet corn earlier, I can go in and shred it and dry it out faster,” says Alff.
Adjust the Residue
The shredder also allows him to adjust how much residue is left in the field.
“I like farmers to leave the stalks high to get more product per acre,” says Alff. “When I go to customers’ fields, I have them tell me how much they want me to take.”
The recommendation is to leave about 35% residue, enough to reduce tillage issues and still maintain residue ideal for ground cover.
He harvests three or four bales per acre off fields that produce 180 bushels of corn per acre. While baling corn stover takes longer than hay, he varies speed with the windrower shredder according to the toughness of the cornstalks and field conditions. He is usually able to shred faster than he could rake.
The Alffs bale for feedlot operations and big beef producers. The number of bales varies; last year they baled about 8,500 big round bales of corn stover and hay, with the majority of them corn stover.
“I charge an extra $2.50 a bale to bale with the shredder. It helps cover equipment costs,” Alff says.
With more feedlots mixing up to 20% corn stover in the feed ration to save money, he anticipates continued demand for his custom baling services. Alff says with growing demand for cellulosic ethanol, custom balers near ethanol plants are also using windrowing shredders on all types of crop residue.
“I will never go back to a hay rake [to bale corn stover], says Alff. “If I can’t shred it, I won’t do it.”