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Harvesting early good when drying is possible

When Southeastern farmers made the decision to increase corn acreage this year, some didn't fully understand the harvest-time management decisions that will be necessary because of a lack of infrastructure both on the farm and at the grain elevator.

Many new growers don't have adequate on-farm drying facilities to handle the excess corn. If that is the case, growers need to understand the discounts levied for delivering high moisture corn to the elevator.

To avoid the high moisture discounts, growers can leave their corn in the field until it dries down to 13 to 14 percent. Moisture can be easily determined by taking samples of corn and using a hand-held moisture meter available from most grain elevators. Leaving corn in the field to dry runs a big risk for aflatoxin, which can cause more severe price restrictions than high moisture corn.

“If growers have on-farm drying facilities, I encourage them to begin harvesting when corn is 24 to 28 percent,” says University of Georgia corn specialist Dewey Lee. “That is the least liability to the corn,” Lee adds.

Expanded corn acreage across the Southeast will likely leave more and more corn outside irrigation systems. In fields in which some corn is irrigated and some isn't, Lee says, growers should strongly consider taking the dryland corn out first, washing the combine to reduce the chance of spreading aflatoxin, and then harvesting the irrigated corn.

The drought in some areas of the lower Southeast has been so severe that even irrigated corn in some cases has been stressed. Even under ideal conditions, Lee contends, there is a threat of spreading aflatoxin from dryland corn to irrigated corn.

The planting time euphoria over corn also led many growers to plant early season hybrids, because the better-adapted, 117- to 119-day maturity varieties were not available. The 112-to 114-day hybrids are more susceptible to quality problems, primarily because they are generally less adapted to the area. If the grower leaves them in the field, quality will begin to decline as will test weight.

Some of these early-maturing varieties that were planted in the lower Southeast need to be harvested early, but many growers simply don't have the drying capacity. The combination of drought, late harvesting and early-maturing hybrids is likely to reflect lower quality, Lee said.

Even if the grower makes the decision to harvest early, in some cases elevators are limited in how much high moisture corn they can handle. The drought, Lee says, will take care of some of the need for drying corn. In Georgia, he says, some of the dryland crop will be abandoned.

Controlling late-season stink bug damage will also help growers get into a position to make timely calls on harvesting. Lee says controlling stink bugs in corn can have a holistic effect on the overall farming operation. In the lower Southeast, Lee says, growers are typically going from corn to wheat and then back with cotton or peanuts. When corn is harvested, stink bugs will move to cotton or peanuts, so controlling them in corn makes good economic sense.

Custom combining is usually a win/win situation for new corn growers. Many are taking a wait-and-see attitude about corn. Though the high price looks good, the worldwide competition for fertilizer and diesel fuel has pushed production costs high enough worldwide to support $3.50 to $4 bushel corn. Using custom combiners will give growers a chance to grow a corn crop or two and see how they like it without purchasing expensive corn harvest equipment.

Making the right decision on when to harvest corn can make or break farmers, even at today's high prices. Making the right decision isn't always as clear-cut because of a lack of storage and infrastructure.

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