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Farmers Debate When To Start Corn Harvest

Farmers Debate When To Start Corn Harvest

Waiting too long can result in big field losses later.

Howard Doster would be proud of one farmer we talked to recently. The farmer, who intends to start shelling corn in about 10 days, says the question is not what will field losses or extra costs will be from starting early and drying 28% to 30% corn. The question should be about what the harvest loss will be in the final field he runs this fall. If weather forecasts are right and he harvests in nasty conditions, they could be significant.

Pick harvest date: Once corn reaches black layer and then drops to about 30% moisture, some believe it's time to start, especially if you have lots of acres to harvest.

Doster, the Purdue University Extension ag economist, now retired, always told farmers to figure equipment size decisions on the cost of lost yield due to planting on the last day in the spring or harvesting on the last day in the fall. Those are the times that count most, and help determine answers to such questions as how big your equipment should be and in this case, when you should start combining corn.

Dave Nanda, director of genetics and technology for Seed Consultants and a plant breeder, says he prefers to start around 28% moisture in a perfect world. Although he realizes there will be costs for drying to store on the farm, or dockage and maybe shrinkage to sell at the elevator, he believes that's the point at which harvest field losses are minimized. As the corn stands in the field longer and stalk rots and other diseases take their toll, harvest losses increase.

Typical field losses come from stalks falling over due to stalk rot or natural aging, especially with late-season storms, and other factors, such as dropped ears. Some hybrids are more prone to dropping ears than others. As corn dries out in the field, there is also more likelihood that some ears will bounce more and even bounce off the head and onto the ground as the corn head goes through the field.

Consider all these factors before picking your date to start harvest, agronomists say.

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