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East Idaho growers find niche in high-moisture corn

East Idaho corn growers have started harvesting high-moisture corn, which is harvested as grain but fermented like silage for added digestibility.
John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on October 11, 2017 8:25AM

Last changed on October 12, 2017 9:57AM

Custom cutter Mike Sloan harvests high-moisture corn in Fort Hall, Idaho. Idaho farmers are reporting an above-average corn harvest.

John O’Connell/Capital Press

Custom cutter Mike Sloan harvests high-moisture corn in Fort Hall, Idaho. Idaho farmers are reporting an above-average corn harvest.

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FORT HALL, Idaho — The corn kernels Mike Sloan harvested on Oct. 9 contained about 35 percent moisture, which would normally be far too wet to meet feeders’ specifications.

But Sloan, who custom cuts about 2,500 acres of corn in Power County, explained the crop was ideal for use as high-moisture corn — a niche feed product that must be harvested early, during a brief window before kernels begin to dry.

The moist grain is ground and packed in a pit, where its elevated moisture contents causes it to ferment like silage. It can be stored for about a year, and it’s feed value is elevated compared with conventional dry grain.

Snake River Cattle buys all of the high-moisture corn raised in southeast Idaho. It can be harvested before it reaches full maturity, and usually a couple of weeks before the corn crop is dry enough to cut for conventional grain.

Idaho growers planted 310,000 acres of corn this season, down 30,000 acres from last season, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Most of the crop was planted for silage, with just 90,000 acres intended as grain. Though NASS doesn’t specify how much corn for grain is harvested with high moisture, Dan Illg, a nutritionist with Standard Nutrition in Omaha, Neb., estimates high-moisture corn represents about 15 percent of U.S. corn production. Illg said dry corn, which has less than 16 percent moisture, is easier to transport, and high-moisture corn is typically fed close to where it’s raised. However, high-moisture corn has roughly 10 percent greater feed value, because the starch is more fully degraded and more available to bacteria in a cow’s rumen, Illg said. Feeders sometimes use steamed, flaked corn as a substitute for high-moisture corn.

“Dry corn has to saturate in rumen fluid, and then microorganisms need to try to get access to it,” Illg said. “With the ensiling, we’re already feeding something saturated with water, and ensiling breaks down a few other compounds that sometimes offer resistance to digestion.”

American Falls grower Kamren Koompin raised 1,000 acres of corn this season, all as high-moisture feed. Koompin said growers are now receiving an 8-cent premium for each bushel of high-moisture corn, compared with dry cron. Koompin, who started harvesting corn Oct. 10, said about a quarter of his corn acres sustained frost damage in the spring, but the remainder of his crop should yield similar to the strong corn crops he’s raised during the past two seasons.

Sloan said yields have been above-average this season, with his best field yielding about 234 bushels per acre and most fields yielding above 200 bushels.

Kevin Ramsey, of American Falls, raised 650 acres of corn, mostly for grain. He yielded well above 200 bushels per acre — his best yields in 15 years of raising corn.

Eric Jensen, of Idaho Falls, raised 100 acres of corn for silage.

“With the hot summer we had, I felt like the corn matured fairly quick this year,” Jensen said.

Jeff Volle, of Filer, said his corn crop is also above average, thanks to a hotter-than-average summer.


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