What is My Cereal Silage Crop Worth? - Frequently Asked Questions

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 When deciding if they should sell a cereal crop for silage the grower needs to ensure that the returns received from silage are at least equal to those from harvesting the grain. They should estimate the expected yield and market price then deduct the harvest costs to get an expected value per acre. The value of the straw should also be considered even if it is not normally baled as these nutrients will be removed from the field and purchased fertilizer would be needed to replace them.
The expected return from grain and straw can then be compared to the expected return from the silage crop. Hint: a barley silage crop typically will yield 1 wet ton (2000 pounds of plant material at 65% moisture) for every 10 bushels of expected grain yield e.g. a field with a 70 bushel expected grain yield would produce about 7 tons of silage per acre.

A quick estimate of the breakeven price needed for a standing silage crop can be obtained from the Barley Silage Calculator.

I have heard about a silage pricing formula. How does it work?
A common approach used by the feedlot industry bases the price on the feed barley price per bushel. A multiplier of 8 times the barley price would yield the value of a ton of "standing" crop i.e. one that the purchaser will harvest. Another multiplier of 12 times the barley price per bushel gives the value of a ton of silage "at the pit" i.e. harvested and delivered by the grower. It is important that the grower and purchaser clarify the unit of measurement to be used (imperial tons or metric tonnes) as well as the moisture content that the price is based on is typically 65% moisture.

What are the benefits to selling a cereal crop for silage?
A key benefit is a reduction in weed control costs, as the silage is harvested before many weeds are mature enough to set seed. This eliminates the need for a pre-harvest herbicide application and reduces the number of weed seeds added to the field as well (fewer seeds today = fewer weeds tomorrow). Eliminating the harvest costs is very important as costs up to $50 per acre or more to swath and combine a cereal crop. Another benefit is a wider harvest window for the silage, which decreases the chance of reduced yield due to harvest losses. Receiving payment for a crop earlier in the year is also very important.

My neighbour wants me to grow a barley silage crop on a field that he is seeding down to forage. Is this a good idea?
The earlier harvest date of silage is a good fit for establishing a forage crop - this way the cover crop is removed in time for the forage to achieve more growth before winter. One caution is that silage yields will be slightly lower than a field that has not been under seeded due to cereal seeding rate being lower (1/3 to 1/2 of the usual rate). This is often offset by the inclusion of some alfalfa or grass in the silage, which can increase protein levels slightly.

The crop has been damaged by hail. Does this make a difference?
Yes. This causes a "salvage" situation where the grower is forced to salvage value from the crop in any way possible as it may no longer be possible to combine it. The crop may also have been "written-off" by crop insurance, in which case the grower will be able to accept a lower price for the silage and still cover their costs. Other factors you should consider are reduced yields and increased harvesting costs i.e. slower swather speeds to pick up the downed crop.

Other useful links:
Value of Standing Hay - FAQ
AFSC Historic Forage Prices - listed by year

Prepared by Ted Nibourg, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development , Alberta Ag- Info Centre
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Ted Nibourg.
This document is maintained by Lorraine McAllister.
This information published to the web on April 16, 2004.
Last Reviewed/Revised on August 31, 2018.