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Serving: WI
ground-level closeup of young corn plants
EXPLORE OPTIONS: Ask your seed supplier for data from your area that will show early drydown rate, yield potential and standability qualities. Also ask about test weight and any other qualities you are looking for in the next crop.

Allowing corn to field-dry below 20% risks yield losses

Agrivision: If your goal is early harvest and net profitability, target those areas.

When fall harvest arrives, I, along with many other corn producers, have a dilemma to face as far as what moisture to begin the corn harvest at. Is it more efficient to start a bit early when the corn moisture is higher, say 28%, but the weather is also warmer, thereby creating a more efficient corn dryer? Or is it better to wait for the corn to dry naturally in the field, say down to 21%, delaying the harvest but also creating a less efficient corn dryer due to colder weather? By delaying harvest, you may also have snow to deal with, and unloading a truck in cold weather is not pleasant. Has this topic ever been studied, and if so, where do I find the results?

Tom Kestell: I have been growing corn for over 50 years and it seems every year has one or more challenges during the growing season. I have seen and participated in a trend to longer-day maturity corn varieties over this time period. This is a fine plan and will produce optimum yields when everything is ideal. This includes early spring, early emergence, adequate heat units and good harvest conditions in the fall. The big “but” in this equation is, when did all that happen in the same year? You did not state where you live or your soil type, but like most of us, I’m sure you have a variety of conditions to plant and harvest in.

I would start the next growing season with the goal of earlier harvest. Ask your seed supplier to give you data from your area that will show early drydown rate yield potential and standability qualities, as well as test weight and any other qualities you are looking for in the next crop. If your goal is early harvest and net profitability, target those areas. I would also look into the potential to sell corn as high-moisture corn to livestock farmers in your area. Also, selling corn as silage will move up your harvest date even more.  Again, keep a mindset to net profitability as your goal.

Sam Miller: This is a question with many variables — harvest window, weather, soil conditions at harvest, equipment and labor availability at harvest, fuel cost to dry, and many others. Several universities have completed studies on field-drying corn and the rate of expected drydown at different ambient temperatures. The higher the temperature, the faster drydown will occur; in other words, the later months of the calendar mean drying rates slow down. Also, evaluate the cost of drying corn and the time it will take to harvest the crop. Many grain producers start drying at wetter levels in order to complete harvest in a timely manner. An internet search of “drying corn in the field” will provide some guidance on this subject. Contact your local elevator to estimate the expense of drying the crop through a corn dryer. You may also want to discuss this subject with your crop consultant.

Katie Wantoch: University of Wisconsin corn specialist Joe Lauer’s research program focuses on answering corn management questions expressed by farmers. On Lauer’s website,, you’ll find information on management decision-making regarding crop productivity, quality and production efficiency, including hybrid selection, rotation, tillage systems, and replant and yield loss damage assessments. He reports that drydown conditions range from 1% per day in September to zero to 0.25% per day in mid-November. By late November, drying rates will be negligible. Estimating drydown rates can also be considered in terms of growing degree units (GDUs). Generally, it takes 30 GDUs to lower grain moisture each point from 30% down to 25%. Drying from 25% to 20% requires about 45 GDUs per point of moisture.

Typically in October, we accumulate 5 to 10 GDUs per day. However, note that the above estimates are based on generalizations, and it is likely that some corn hybrids vary from this pattern of drydown. During a warm, dry fall, grain moisture loss per day ranges from 0.76% to 0.92%. During a cool, wet fall, grain moisture loss per day ranges from 0.32% to 0.35%. The number of GDUs associated with grain moisture loss is lower under cool, wet conditions than under warm, dry conditions. Lauer recommends that harvesting corn for dry grain storage should begin at 24% to 25% grain moisture. Allowing corn to field-dry below 20% risks yield losses from stalk lodging, ear rots, insect feeding damage and wildlife damage.

Be prepared for localized root lodging and stalk lodging that may slow harvest and contribute to yield losses. The expense to dry grain to the proper moisture for storage offsets the yield loss when corn remains standing in the field.

Expanding milking herd

My 28-year-old son and I decided a couple of years ago that we wanted to add on to our freestall barn and add 50 cows to our herd. Now that milk prices are going up, we think this is the time to do it. We have 20 additional heifers due in June and July. We’ll have to buy 30 additional animals. We have saved $25,000 for the project — we’ll have to borrow the rest. We farm 500 acres. This will increase our herd from 200 cows to 250 cows. Do you think we should buy heifers bred to calve this summer, or should we purchase 30 cows? We currently have three employees who help with milking and calf chores. This summer we will need to hire an additional employee. What are your thoughts?

Tom Kestell: I would like to congratulate you on having a successful multigenerational farm and the fact that you and your son are planning for the future together. First, I would talk to reputable larger dairies in your area that have extra fresh heifers for sale. I recommend talking with dairies that use modern AI sires and have identification in place, herd health programs and vaccination programs. I also suggest that it is vital that these herds be on DHI testing for components and also for somatic cell count. I would test for all the diseases you can test for through the milk sample, such as bovine viral diarrhea-persistent infection and Johne’s.

You are making a major investment in the future of your enterprise, so make this investment as well informed as you can. If you wait until these fresh heifers have their first test, you will be able to make a much better evaluation of this investment. I would not buy herds or older animals because you lose too much of their productive life. Buy good-quality young animals and let them grow old on your farm.

Now to the questions not asked. How will this expansion affect your manure storage, feed storage, feed availability, heifer facilities, etc.? What is your current production level? Could this be improved as a means of improving net income?

I would guard against letting unprofitable cows remain part of the herd just to fill stalls. Unprofitable cows quickly eat up the profits of the more productive ones. Good luck with your venture.

Sam Miller: This scenario is tailor-made for a partial budget analysis. Compare the costs and benefits of purchasing cows versus springing heifers to guide your decision-making. A partial budget analysis requires a comparison of the financial impact (cost of animals, expected revenue, cull rate, replacement costs, etc.) of two similar choices, as well as the nonfinancial impact (biosecurity, integration of cowsversus heifers into the herd, timing of calving the additional animals, etc). Work with a dairy business consultant, Extension ag agent or technical college farm trainer to assist in completing this analysis. Contact your milk plant to be certain it will take the additional milk from the expansion. This is not an investment you want to make if there is no home for the additional milk production. Good luck with your analysis and project.

Katie Wantoch: There are many items to consider when deciding which option is best for your farm, such as feed costs, labor availability and costs, environmental factors, genetics, prices, and tax implications. The answer isn’t always straightforward, and it may change from year to year. The first step for you and your son is to discuss your vision for the farm business and ideal herd size. Depending on which option you choose, your herd may continue to grow, and you may not have adequate facilities, feed, land for manure application, etc. If you are limited in herd expansion size, that may be the deciding factor.

The amount borrowed for the purchase of additional cattle may indicate if you are able to afford 30 milking cows versus more expensive bred heifers. Purchasing a milking cow from a neighbor or friend may be advantageous in providing you with history of milk production and pedigree. A bred heifer and its calf could also provide the same benefit, along with a potential to enhance the genetics of your dairy herd. The downfall with a heifer is that it may be unproven, and there’s no guarantee that you will see improvements. I encourage you and your son to discuss the many options involved with an expansion of your farm business.

Agrivision panel: Tom Kestell, Sheboygan County, Wis., dairy farmer; Sam Miller, managing director, group head of agricultural banking, BMO Harris Bank; and Katie Wantoch, Dunn County, Wis., Extension agricultural agent specializing in economic development. If you have questions you would like the panel to answer, send them to: Wisconsin Agriculturist, P.O. Box 236, Brandon, WI 53919; or email

TAGS: Harvest Dairy
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