Managing Moisture: Navigating Drydown Decisions
November 6, 2019
This season has been, without a doubt, one of the wettest since 2009. In many states, the excessive rain led to flooding and late planting. On my family farm in North Central Iowa, like on many farms throughout the Corn Belt, it was so wet that we couldn’t get into the field to plant on schedule. And the continued wet weather means that now high and variable grain moisture levels are presenting problems with grain handling and storing. High moisture can slow down harvest and lead to incremental costs for drydown that eat into profit. Let’s take a look at what to consider as you manage moisture.
Balancing Yield and Drydown Costs
As a farmer, I often work with agronomists. Chris Souder is one of the regional agronomy leads on our team at Bayer Crop Science, and he has a lot of expertise with managing crops in all sorts of conditions. Here’s the guidance he’s been giving the farmers his team works with:
“A big decision is how aggressive to be to capture as much of the yield that’s in the field, versus balancing the drydown costs. In early November, we’re at a point at which the drydown of the grain is going to significantly slow. In early or even late September, we were probably drying down one-half to three-fourths percent moisture per day. But as we go into November, that drydown rate is going to slow to almost one-fourth percent per day. Most farmers are probably sitting at five to 10 percent higher moisture than they normally would be for this time of year. In addition to high overall moisture rates, the variability of grain moisture within individual fields is higher than expected, further complicating the decision on when to harvest.”
The optimum harvest moisture for corn is higher than what many farmers expect. Ideally harvesting at about 23–25 percent moisture is economical and efficient for many reasons:
- Kernels shell easily
- Stalk integrity is still relatively good
- Risk of mechanical harvest loss is minimal, one to two percent
Plant breeders are developing products with great standability, plant intactness, and grain quality. However, Mother Nature will eventually win out. Farmers should continue to monitor the condition of each field and be prepared to make adjustments in prioritization as they harvest to minimize risk of grain loss. Drying can be expensive, but a deteriorated crop may leave more revenue in the field. In addition to causing revenue loss, grain left in the field this fall will turn into volunteer corn that will need to be addressed in next season’s crop.
When harvesting, be aware of the risk of storing higher-moisture grain on the farm. If grain is not dried down to a level at which it will flow easily, there is risk of spoiling and bridging, or even freezing and binding, which can lead to potentially deadly situations in grain bins. So, in a year like this one, most of us are going to need to give some thought as to how we’ll dry our grain.
DIY Grain Drying: Weighing the Options
So what are your options when it comes to drying? A few lucky farmers are going to have the option of just letting Mother Nature do its thing and allow the crop to fully dry in the field. For those who will need to dry their grain, you have a few options to consider: