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Pick Wet Corn – Not Dry, Crop Consultant Says

Studies show yield losses from corn left to dry in the field.

Harvest activity in the eastern Corn Belt is very inconsistent from state to state, with some corn moisture levels very low, and others are very high.

While Illinois farmers are well over halfway finished with getting corn and soybean crops out of the fields, Indiana growers remain well behind their averages.

Slow Boat To China

On Monday, the USDA Crop Progress Report indicated that Indiana had 46% of its corn harvested, below its 59% five-year average and 62% completed pace a year ago.

Kent Haring, a Medaryville, Indiana, farmer says this week’s rains have him sitting on the sidelines waiting to get back into the fields.

“We’re only 15% completed with corn harvest. Part of that is because we have been working on getting the soybeans cut first. But, also, the corn is at a high moisture level right now. We have 75% to 80% of our corn left to go,” Haring says.

Indiana’s state corn crop rating this week came in at 58% good/excellent; the nation’s rating is pegged at 66%.

“So, when we get into the cornfields we’ll have to have our bin and stationary dryers going,” Haring says. “We’ll have everything going.”

The northwest Indiana farmer says he is 10 days behind on harvest. “We’re usually half done by now. We’re behind normal by 20% anyway,” Haring says.

For the little amount of corn that he has harvested, so far the yields are reading north of 200 bushels per acre.

“That’s pretty good, I think, by anybody’s standards,” Haring says.

A Mixed Soybean Surprise

USDA noted Monday that Indiana is 69% completed with soybean harvest, ahead of a 67% five-year average.

Haring says despite fighting green stems and a late-maturing crop, he has finished his soybean harvest.

“We had a real wet spring, barely got the crop in the ground on time, and everything from there was delayed,” he says.

Because of a long dry spell in August, the old adage of a day of rain in the spring equaling a week’s worth in the fall didn’t apply this year, Haring says.

Soybean yields were dinged by a wet start to the growing season and then a very dry month of August.

“My records show that we had no rain from August 2 to September 19. Zero rainfall in that time frame. We had 1,900 acres of soybeans, and the crop just got blasted with hot/dry weather. We had cool nighttime temperatures, but no rain,” Haring says.

As a result, with yields ranging from 30 to 40 bushels per acre, Haring has a crop insurance collection on almost all of his parcels that had soybeans.

“That’s not a complete disaster, but it’s a disaster in my eyes because there was a collection on every farm,” Haring says.

To show the variability in Indiana’s soybean crop, Haring noted that just 15 miles from his farm, soybean yields ranged from 90 to 95 bushels per acre. “I’ve heard of 82-bushel averages. That’s awfully good. If I could grow those kind of soybeans, I probably wouldn’t grow corn.”

Illinois Harvest Races Ahead

Dave Mowers, AIM for the Heartland crop consultant in Illinois, says after a great early harvest pace this year, the harvest story is getting to be a regional one.

Farmers north of Interstate 80 have been stopped out of fields recently, due to wet conditions combined with a late-maturing crop.

“It’s getting a little wet now, with about 5½ inches of rain since mid-October.”

On Monday, USDA’s Crop Progress Report pegged Illinois’ corn harvest at 62% complete vs. a 74% five-year average. For soybeans, the state is 77% complete, above the 73% five-year average.

Illinois Soybeans

Mowers says last week there were a lot of soybeans cut south of Interstate 80.

“Up north, those farmers are slower to get the crop out due to a late-maturing crop with fewer heat units during the growing season. Also, better plant health, no diseases, and a late frost has left green soybean plant stems,” Mowers says.

For farmers in west-central Illinois, soybean yields are off 10% compared with last year’s crop.

“I’m hearing of a lot of 60-bushel-per-acre averages,” Mowers says.

Corn Yields Surprise

For corn, the crop is coming out of the field really dry (17% moisture) and the later planted crop is surprisingly outyielding last year’s crop.

“Most farmers I talked to are pleasantly surprised with their corn and soybean yields this year. The cool nights in August helped this corn crop,” Mowers says.

“If we would have had normal nighttime August temperatures with the dry conditions that we experienced, we’d be talking about a lot poorer crop,” Mowers says.

Store, Store, Store?

So what are farmers going to do with this harvested crop, considering the market is offering a weak basis and hedging price?

While local basis prices (30¢ under Chicago futures for corn, 55¢ under for soybeans) are better than some Midwest locations, Haring is planning on putting his corn crop in the bin, waiting for a better price down the road.

“Because of lower yields, I marketed a higher percentage of my new-crop soybeans already, above $10 per bushel. So, I’m happy with that. I usually have a few bins of beans leftover, but I won’t this year.”

Mowers says his Illinois farmer-customers are relieved the yields are coming in better than expected, knowing the nature of the market.

“I think they were concerned that the yields were going to be lower,” Mowers says. The real tough part for farmers is that local basis prices are horrible.”

Wetter Corn Pays

In Illinois, there is more on-farm storage west of the Illinois River due to historically more livestock. This allows those farmers to take the corn crop out of the field wetter and dry it down themselves.

“The farmers in central and eastern Illinois, faced with country elevator charges for storing and drying costs, will try to leave the corn in the fields longer,” Mower says.

Corn left to dry down in the field may be losing 10% to 20% of the crop, Mower says.

Join Discussion: Farmers Talk Combining Wet vs. Dry Corn

“Once the corn reaches the black layer stage, it will respire so much that it shrinks to the point of losing yield potential. Farmers would be further ahead to pull it out wetter and dry it down,” Mowers says.

Mowers adds, “It’s respiratory loss. While the corn is in the field drying, the plant is still living. Therefore, it has to breathe. It has to have calories. So, it will take the carbohydrates out of corn plant itself, which comes from the corn development. We’re seeing yields shrinking when the corn is left in the field to dry.”

To be sure, a four-year study conducted by Purdue University in the mid-1990s backs up Mowers’ claim that farmers should consider picking corn wet – not dry.

Purdue University research indicates that farmers should aim for a harvest moisture content level that considers harvest losses and grain-drying costs.

“The results of this study support earlier claims made by the seed industry and farmers that grain yield can ‘disappear’ when corn is allowed to remain in the field to dry after physiological maturity has occurred,” Purdue University researchers stated.


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