GREELEY, Colo. (AP) -- An unprecedented number of Colorado corn farmers have returned to their fields after harvest to gather leftover corn stalks after a drought limited the supply of other cattle feed sources and led to higher stalk prices.
Most years, corn stalk isn't valuable enough to justify the expense of baling it, The Greeley Tribune reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/T1FSb6 ).
But current prices of $100 to $125 a ton have made it worth gathering instead of tilling back into the soil.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture said corn stalk prices were lower last week than prices for hay, grass and alfalfa. However, persistent drought, including last winter's record-low snowpack, have put those other sources of cattle feed at a premium.
Platteville-area farmer Doug Rademacher estimated about 80 percent of farmers in his area are baling corn stalk this fall — much more than he's ever seen.
Rademacher said he's considering doing the same but doesn't have a baler of his own. Farmers with the equipment are so backed up with requests from others that they might not get around to Rademacher's fields before winter.
At this point, Rademacher said he's considering just spending thousands of dollars to buy his own machine.
"It sounds like it may very well be worth the investment," he said.
Other corn farmers said selling stalks could make up for an average or below-average corn year.
LaSalle-area farmer Alan Frank said yields on his corn acres this fall varied from 70 bushels an acre to 225 bushels per acre depending on water supply. The state's 2011 average was 161 bushels per acre.
"We certainly had the heat this year, but if you didn't have the water to go along with it, you were in trouble," said Mark Arnusch, a Keenesburg-area farmer who also saw varying corn yields.
Last week's Colorado Crop Progress report showed 97 percent of the state's corn had already been harvested. That's well ahead of most years.