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Waiting for Corn Drydown Could Cost You

If you are waiting to harvest because of low corn prices and the cost of fuel, you may want to switch your strategy. “You are letting dollars go away to save dimes,” says Gary Woodruff, GSI, about farmers who are waiting for grain moisture levels to go down before they start harvesting because they don’t want to pay for the fuel to dry corn.

Conditions right for mold
The combination of corn maturing later than expected with wet, cooler than normal conditions is creating the perfect storm for mold. “The cold and wet conditions have created a mold situation that is causing stalk issues and is already causing ear drop,” explains Woodruff. “It’s probably not the best plan to leave this grain in the field.”

You may be tempted to wait for your corn to drydown to 20% or all the way to 15%, but by the time corn gets to that moisture level, 30% to 40% of it could be on the ground, he adds.

Another thing to keep in mind is how long you are planning to store grain, which may be longer than you have for the past few years. “If you are thinking long-term storage, you need to keep in mind that you need quality corn going into storage, especially to store through summer,” says Dr. Ken Hellevang, Extension engineer at North Dakota State University. “If the kernel is damaged in any way, whether it’s mold growing on the kernel or broken kernels, or anything that is damaging, that makes it more susceptible to future mold growth and gives it a much shorter storage life.”

Evaluate local situation
What Hellevang recommends is that you evaluate your local situation to decide when it's best to start harvest. Take a look at the long-term forecast, moisture levels, and crop prices. “In the Fargo area, the forecast for the next week or so is only in the 50s and 60s,” says Hellevang. “If that trend continues throughout the Corn Belt, we are going to see a lot of slowdown in field drying.”

He adds that there is normally a weather shift about the middle of October. “The first week or two of October we have good drydown conditions in the field,” he explains. “After that it gets colder, the days become shorter, and the rate of drydown is really slow. We are normally better to harvest and run the grain through a dryer.” Your local university Extension office should have information on conditions in your area that will help as you work through harvest and into storage season.

Cautions against leaving in field over winter
If you are considering seriously delaying harvest and letting your corn stand in the field and drydown over winter, as Hellevang says several farmers in his area are debating, there are a few things to think through first. “I always caution people when they are considering letting it stand in the field over winter because of snow, wildlife, weak stalks, and other things that can cause field losses to be very high,” he explains. “It’s pretty easy to get up to 20% or 30% field loss.” You also need to check with your insurance to see if you are covered if you leave it in the field.

“Normally, if we are in the mid-20% moisture range, or even up to 27% or 28%, you are better off to harvest it and run it through the dryer,” adds Hellevang.

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