Delaying Corn Harvest – What are the risks?

Contributed by Clare Kinlin, Sales and Agronomy Manger in Eastern Ontario.

It was one year ago yesterday (October 29th) in Eastern Ontario and Quebec that we had the ice/snow storm that knocked the power out and did a lot of damage to the crop still left in the field. Who would have thought at the start of this year that we would have two growing seasons the same? Well not quite the same this year has been cooler and wetter especially October making harvesting very difficult and about a month behind. The biggest difference is the corn is 33-40% this year and was 25-30% last year. Test weight is lower but is not a train wreck I expected but I believe most of the corn will grade #2-4. There will be some bad stories on test weight but if we planted the right hybrid and on time we should have grades at expectation. I am getting many inquiries on when should I start corn harvest. I believe a combine is much like a corn planter and we should not stand in the way of getting harvest done. The problem is growers do not want to pay the high drying charges (I would not either) however there is risk if we wait. We know from our experience last year that a single weather event can change a lot of things.

Consider the following if you are going to leave the crop in the field to ‘field dry’ –
• Drying conditions. Have the weather conditions been favorable for drying? What we need is cold clear nights and warm sunny days. Like those 3 days that we called summer.
• Ability to Harvest. The crop has to be harvestable. Can the combine can extract the kernel whole and leave the cob in the field. Some of the early samples look like the corn was put through a processor.
• Ability to Dry. The corn drying process cannot damage the sample of grain anymore than the combine. If the corn is too wet and not black layered (immature), the drier will tend to crack the kernel or burn it. Drying this wet corn is going to be a slow process unless the weather changes. Remember dry it low and slow. Low heat, slow speed.
• Ear Moulds and Quality. The corn has a lot of ear moulds visible on the grain. We usually always see some degree of ear moulds but the crop is usually drier and the moulds do not cause much damage. The disease triangle is perfect for ear moulds (Environment, Host and Disease). The longer the crop stays in the field the more opportunity for these moulds to grow and infect the crop.
• Speed/Field conditions of harvest. It is easier harvest standing corn as compared to down corn after a storm (“Last year data would support a 20 bushel yield loss when corn goes down and significant slower harvest). This was an industry issue in 2008 that was proven with all the volunteer corn we witnessed this summer.
• Drying cost. Using local elevators drying charts I did the following calculations. Please use your cost to calculate your situation.
Here are some assumptions:
o The cost for drying corn over 25% is 6 cents/ bushel/point of moisture
o The cost for drying corn under 25% is 4-5 cents/bushel/point of moisture.
o Assuming an average yield is 150 bushel and an average selling price of $4.00/bushel
 Corn harvested at 32% is 7 points wetter than expected harvest moisture therefore the extra cost to dry is 42 cents per bushel. Using the assumed yield of 150 bu and a price of $4.00/bushel for corn. The additional drying cost is $63/acre above the cost a normal year (25% moisture at harvest). The amount of bushels to pay for the extra drying is approximately 16 bushels of corn ($63.00 divided by $4.00/bu). It seems very steep price to pay but if you can maintain grain quality this may be a better option than field drying. In our example the total drying cost for the crop will be approx $115-$125 per acre.
• Field Dry down. It is expected that this corn will dry in the field approximately 1-1.5% points of moisture/week if things are good. The total dry down curve for corn for the month of October has been between 2-4%. October is usually a better drying month than November. For every week that you wait to harvest you are saving 42-75 cents in drying charges if the weather is good and nothing in the bin. The longer the corn is left to field dry the higher the risk of field losses.

There are a lot of questions and concerns with this year’s corn crop. I do know it an expensive crop we planted this spring and it will be expensive to dry it this fall. We need to get as much yield as possible to get a good return on investment. I do not know of anyone who has ever profited from a crop not harvested.


2 Responses

  1. I was wondering what you were using as dollar figure for propane/litre, if you are calculating drying costs to be $0.06/bu for over 25% and $0.04-$0.05/bu for under 25%.

  2. What I used was th average from a couple of local elevator drying charts. Thanks for the comment

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