Harvest Smart

Harvest Smart from Central Valley Ag on Vimeo.

by Mike Zwingman

by Mike Zwingman

Certain times of the growing season call for certain topics.  Neither me nor you really need evidence of this, but still—I look back at articles from years past and know it to be true as often, to the week, I am cooking up an article on the same topic I covered the year before and before and before.  This time of year, my articles haven’t lined up to the week, but have instead covered three topics: stalk quality, hot nights, and harvest moisture.  These things are actually closely interrelated, so I’m going to try here, in Year 4 (!) to illustrate that to you.

In essence, hot nights cause your corn plants to reallocate sugars, which can cause stalk problems.  We’re not exactly victims of a perfect storm for such a situation this year, but given more than our share of cloudy days and hot nights this season, it’s something we need to be on the lookout for.  If you would happen to discover that your plants are so affected you might be smart to consider harvesting at a higher moisture content to avoid the loss that can come with further stalk degradation.

Want to know more?  Then read on, good friends.

As I mentioned above, we’re well-acquainted with hot nights by now.  They’re not ideal for maximum yield as they cause our plants to act in ways that negatively affect grain fill and harvestability.  The reallocation of sugars that I mentioned above happens in our plants even in the most perfect of years, but hot nights can cause this reallocation to start earlier than is ideal and that’s when stalk quality can become comprised enough by harvest to cause us some headaches.  This situation can be made more vexing by the intrusion of one of the various stalk rots, which find opportunity in weakened stalks.

The practical question is how to know if your plants’ stalk quality is being affected by these conditions.  Fortunately, the answer to that question is pretty easy to figure out.  Go forth and start push tests.  Don’t overcomplicate this very basic test.  Just go out into your field and push your corn nice and good until it leans.  If the stalks break, you’ve got a problem brewing.  If they don’t, then things are well.

If your corn plants don’t break under such a test, you should go ahead with your current plans for harvest.  If they do break, I’d encourage you to consider harvesting at a higher moisture than you might have in mind.  I know—you’re concerned about drying costs.  That’s right and well and you should talk to your FSA about that.  But as you do that, have a little math in your pocket to help you make the right decision.

The idea behind harvesting at a higher moisture is that you’ll harvest early and thus circumvent the loss that comes with poor stalk quality.  This is about optimizing yield.

Experience, research, and observation tell us that losing just one3/4 pound ear per 1/1000 acre—which is one ear per 174 feet of row, or one ear per 22 feet (with an eight row cornhead), or one ear per 14.5 feet (with a twelve row cornhead)—causes a one bushel per acre yield loss.  None of those are extraordinary or unrealistic numbers, and the probability of such an occurrence happening is much higher with downed corn.  So basically, poor stalk quality will affect your yield.  And/or it will cost you in operating costs as you slow your combine speed by about 25% to compensate for the difficulty—an extra expense of $12.50 per acre in harvest costs.

Untitled-2But still, you might be saying, drying costs…  I won’t go into it all here, because I’m past my word limit as is, but corn does dry naturally.  I can’t tell you that the conditions will be ideal, but if they are, it dries naturally by about 3% per week.  (If you would like to hear more about this all—convectionary heat and evaporative cooling and such—just give me a call and I’ll happily yak your ear off for 45 minutes.)  Given this, if you can time it so that your average moisture content between your first bushel and last is about 18.5%, drying costs will be minimal to null.  Like I said, talk to your FSA.

To wrap us back to where we began, knowing how our hot nights have affected your stalk quality allows you to be surgical about harvest so that you can optimize your yield and minimize your loss.  This is about good decision making rather than convenience to help you finish off as best as possible the hard work you put in this season.  Harvest smart.