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Corn harvest 2003

D.R. Hicks, Agronomy and Plant Genetics, University of Minnesota

Corn will be mature and at harvestable moisture levels earlier this year because of the dry weather. This gives the opportunity for more field drying, which will reduce drying costs. However, the dry weather stress has caused premature dying as the plants have shut down and will likely result in increased stalk lodging and ear droppage.

Corn will normally dry approximately 3/4 to 1% per day during favorable drying weather (sunny and breezy) during the early warmer part of the harvest season from mid September through late September. By early to mid October, dry-down rates will usually drop to 1/2 to 3/4% per day. So with earlier maturity, there is more time during the early part of the harvest season when air temperatures are higher that will facilitate more rapid drying rates. It may be possible to leave corn in the field to dry to levels such that little to no drying will be required. And with high LP gas costs and lower yields due to the dry weather, saving drying costs will help to preserve some profitability.

However, the potential for higher field losses due to stalk lodging and ear droppage is the tradeoff. The dry weather stress has caused cannibalization of plant sugars from the stalk to the grain leaving the stalks and ear shanks weakened and predisposed to stalk rot development at an earlier calendar date. The organisms that cause stalk rot also grow and develop more quickly at higher temperatures, so the potential for early stalk rot development exists.

Weakened stalks and shanks could mean lodging and ear droppage, which may slow harvest and increase harvest losses. The droppage of one "normal" sized ear per 100 feet of row in 30 inch spaced rows equals a loss of 1 bushel per acre. Corn growers should evaluate fields for ear droppage potential and harvest those fields first that appear to have the greatest potential for yield losses.

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