ReachOut: Optimizing Harvest Moisture In Corn

ReachOut: Optimizing Harvest Moisture In Corn from United Farmers Cooperative on Vimeo.

Mike Zwingman

Mike Zwingman

Friends with good bins, fans, and full aeration floors, I have a message for you:

Shiny up the combine.

This is an argument for taking corn at a higher moisture and making pals of your drying costs.

Low moisture is a typical goal for our harvest as we aim to avoid the dreaded costs of drying and minimize shrink.  Many growers really only explore harvesting at a higher moisture content if the market is providing a premium incentive to do so.  But.  If you have the grain handling capacity noted above, harvesting earlier will make you money, even accounting for the possibility of increased drying costs.


To maximize your yield, aim to average 20% moisture content as you harvest.  This means that initially, you’ll be harvesting your corn at 24-25% moisture.  That percentage will decrease as your harvest progresses of course, and you should end up harvesting your final fields at about 18%.  The work will be a little dirtier, especially at first, but you don’t mind that, right?  Because it’s worth it.

18% moisture is a mark at which the cost of your yield loss exceeds the drying costs of harvesting at a higher percentage.  Waiting for 18% moisture costs you 5-8 bushels, perhaps even as many as 10-12 in particularly challenging years.  At $5 corn, that’s a $25 to $60 dollar loss per acre.

Header1The problems with waiting for 18% moisture are many: ear drop potential is higher, stalk quality declines, and head shelling becomes an issue.  This “Phantom loss” also increases the longer that corn is left in the field: the moisture and heat of the field spur seeds to actually prepare to germinate, which leads them to respire and burn their sugars.  Harvesting earlier will minimize the phantom loss caused by this respiration.  Additionally, stalk quality will be higher, and you’ll leave less grain on the ground.  Shrink is shrink at whatever moisture content, but you will more than make up for it with your higher yield.

But don’t simply take my word on it.  Check out the charts below for a quick cost analysis of harvesting at various moisture percentages.


Fear of having to pay drying costs has very likely cost you valuable yield in the past, enough yield to cover those very drying costs that you were aiming to avoid and then some.  If you have the grain handling capacity for this little twist in your harvest operation, aiming for a 20% average moisture rather than 18% will put more corn in your hoppers and more profit in your pocket.