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Tips to consider for the 2017 corn harvest, drying and storage

Preparing for round 4 of the great margin squeeze
Many farmers may want to reconsider leaving the corn in the field to dry and instead utilize a dryer in 2017.

Every year is different and 2017 is no different. It brings challenges for corn harvest across the Midwest. In some states, rain is delaying harvest progress and in others, crop maturation. No matter what severe winter weather will make an appearance and that could mean even bigger crop losses.

Here are some tips to ensure producers complete harvest, dry it correctly and get it stored before the weather plays havoc on all of the plans.

Fall Dry-down

An average dry-down rate for corn in North Dakota during October is about 2.5 percent per week, so if corn reaches maturity at about 30 to 35 percent moisture on Oct. 1, it might be expected to be at least 20 to 25 percent moisture at the end of October. The average dry-down rate in November is only about 1 percent per week.

Normally, harvest should start by mid to late October because the amount of field drying is limited and the risk of snow and greater field losses increases when harvest is delayed.

Once below 20 percent moisture, losses escalate and when it hits 18 or 19 percent, the shatter losses begin when combining.

This means it’s of a great importance, to get the corn off before snow falls.

Gary Woodruff,  of Grain Systems Inc. conditioning applications manager, says that utilizing a dryer can help make the difference between profit and loss. By using a dryer, producers can start harvest earlier and allow them to change the harvest pattern.  The dryer becomes more important every year because it allows farmers to get into their fields before the severe weather sets in.

“Assure corn stalks and cob shanks are strong if considering leaving high-moisture corn in the field over winter,” North Dakota State University Extension Service grain drying expert Ken Hellevang advises. “Field losses can range from minor to severe. Compare the cost of drying versus losses associated with leaving the corn in the field. In addition, standing corn tends to slow soil drying in the spring, which may delay planting.”

To estimate the propane cost of drying per bushel per point of moisture removed, multiply the propane price per gallon by 0.02. For example, the cost to remove 10 points of moisture using $1.50 propane is 30 cents per bushel. Dividing the propane cost by the corn price provides the percentage of corn losses that will equal the drying cost (30 cents divided by $3.50 equals 9 percent). Also, verify the impact on insurance of leaving the corn in the field.

Corn Drying

“Corn above 21 percent moisture should not be dried using natural-air (NA) or low-temperature (LT) drying to minimize corn spoilage during drying,” Hellevang says. “Because the drying capacity of NA and LT is extremely poor at temperatures below 35 to 40 degrees, little drying typically is possible using a natural-air system after about Nov. 1.

“Adding heat does not permit drying wetter corn and only slightly increases drying speed,” he adds. “The primary effect of adding heat is to reduce the final corn moisture content.”

When outdoor temperatures average near or below freezing, cool the corn to 20 to 25 degrees for winter storage and finish drying in April to early May. Limit the corn depth to about 20 to 22 feet to obtain an airflow rate of 1 to 1.25 cubic feet per minute per bushel, which is necessary to dry the corn before deterioration occurs. Turn fans off during extended periods of rain, snow, or fog to minimize the amount of moisture the fans pull into the bin.

Using the maximum drying temperature that will not damage the corn increases the dryer capacity and reduces energy consumption of a high-temperature dryer. Removing a pound of water requires about 20 percent less energy at a drying air temperature of 200 F than at 150 F. Follow the dryer manufacturer’s recommendations, but generally, recommended temperatures when drying corn are 210 to 230 F.

“Be aware that excessively high drying temperatures may result in a lower final test weight and increased breakage susceptibility,” Hellevang says. “In addition, as the drying time increases, high-moisture corn becomes more susceptible to browning. A cross-flow dryer that moves corn from the inside to the outside of the drying column, varies the corn flow rate across the drying column, or varies the corn’s exposure to the drying air is more likely to maintain corn quality.”

Check immature and damaged grain more frequently, and do not put immature or damaged corn in long-term storage.

“If you practice good storage, then you minimize problems,” says Woodruff, of GSI.

Woodruff recommends aerating grian for 10 days or at least long enough to equalize moisture in the kernel.

He adds if you are making plans to sell your corn next spring, then dry it to 15 percent. If you are planning on selling it in one year then it should be dried down to 13 percent.

Storage Methods

With so much grain still in storage from last year, producers may be considering alternative storage options. Storage in a poly bag is a good option, but it does not prevent mold growth or insect infestations. Grain should be dry, at recommended storage moisture contents, when placed in a grain bag.

Storing higher-moisture corn in a bag should be considered very short-term storage and done only at near-freezing temperatures. At moisture contents exceeding about 25 percent, ensiling may occur at temperatures above freezing and prevent the corn from being dried and sold in the general market.

When storing in bags, select an elevated, well-drained location with the surface prepared to prevent the bags from being punctured, and run the bags north and south so solar heating is similar on both sides of the bags.

Wildlife can puncture the bags, creating an entrance for moisture and releasing the grain smell, which attracts more wildlife. Monitor the grain temperature at several locations in the bags and repair punctured bags.

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