Corn Moisture Levels At Harvest Could Be A Concern For Many This Year

As we well know, “moisture content” is an important factor when it comes time to pull the crop out of the field. Wetter grain at harvest increases the need for artificial drying, and in turn increases production costs. With low prices and a weak basis this is clearly an expense many producers are not wanting to think about. Black layer usually occurs at about 30% to 33% moisture content and depends on variety, weather, soil types, moisture, and production practices. Corn will shell with a combine at about 30% moisture content with somer kernel damage, so question becomes, when should you get ether corn out of the field? Several studies from the Midwest indicate combine losses are least when corn reaches 26% moisture (about 1 to 3 percent losses are typical). Combine losses increase as the grain moisture dries. Losses of 10% to 15% are fairly common with corn at 15 percent moisture. Midsouth growers’ believe that initial corn harvest should begin as the corn field dries to 18% to 20% moisture, where as Midwest data strongly suggest beginning harvest at 25% moisture content, based primarily on long-term weather and machine loss data. I remember hearing from a producer a couple of years back who went into his field and started harvesting corn at between 25% and 27% moisture, adjusted to dry bushels it was yielding north of +200 bushels per acre. He decided he didn’t want the huge expense of drying it all down, so he decided to jump over to harvest soybeans. There was also some early frost concerns that helped him make the decision to jump form corn to soybeans. Regardless, when he returned to finish the corn, it had dried down to about 16% just like he had hoped, but it only yielded about 185 to 190 bushels per acre. Here we are again this year. We’ve had some heavy rains and good moisture in many locations, and prices are extremely low. Our natural thoughts are to reduce expenses and let the corn sit in the field a bit longer to help dry itself down and reduce drying expenses. The question is will we be doing more harm than good? Will we lose more in yield than we save in drying expenses? There’s obviously a ton of debate about the subject, but I remember reading one study by Perdue that proved a yield loss of 0.6% to 1.6% per point of moisture can occur in corn drying in the field. From everything I hear “yield loss” can be even worse if corn dries down, then is hit again with more moisture in the field by rain and humid weather, as it can then then start sprouting which hurts overall quality, testweight and even overall yield. We could also start to see more stalk and root lodging at the combine which will create more losses. Also keep in mind it’s normally cheaper to dry corn down in late-september or early-October than mid to late-November, since you don’t have to heat up the outside air as much. the folks at SuccessfulFarming ran an interesting article a couple of years back, and estimated that If the elevator charges 3¢ per point of moisture per bushel (plus shrink), it would cost 21¢ per bushel to dry corn from 22 percent to 15 percent which is $42/acre at 200 bushel corn. At $3.25/bushel corn price it takes 13 bushels to pay for drying. It is very likely in this scenario that you could lose 10+ B.U./A. bushels per acre by letting the corn dry in the field. Further reasoning to justify harvest at 25-20 percent moisture can be made by considering adverse weather/wind/rain during this time along with the other benefits that come with a timely harvest. The University of Mississippi, says drying off 10% of grain moisture (25 to 15 percent) requires removing 7.47 pounds of water. And will require about 15,000 btu of heat in a drying system with the normal efficiencies in the Midsouth (about 2000 btu per pound of water removed). Understand, moisture content and the amount of drying required will also affect stress cracks, breakage, and germination. Extremely wet grain may be a precursor to high mold damage later in storage or transport. While the weather during the growing season affects yield, grain composition, and the development of the grain kernels, grain harvest moisture is influenced largely by crop maturation, the timing of harvest, and harvest weather conditions. General moisture storage guidelines suggest that 14% is the maximum moisture content for storage up to 6 to 12 months for good quality, clean corn under typical U.S. corn-belt conditions; and 13% or lower moisture content is recommended for storage of more than one year. I wanted to share with you the only national data I could find on average corn moisture levels over the past few harvest seasons in the U.S. This is good information that may give us an indication of the quality of this year’s crop in comparison. This data is gathered by the U.S. Grains Council and found in their post-harvest, annual Corn Harvest Quality Report 2016/17. I also included some other helpful tips. (Source: Perdue Corn Harvest Decision ToolUniversity of Mississippi)  Van Trump Report

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