“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
We are getting to the time of year where irrigation has come or is coming to a close; we are starting to go through harvest equipment and getting things ready to roll. I want you to start to think the order you may harvest your corn fields. Most of the time order is based on location, distance to where you want to put that corn, or maybe you start furthest from home and work your way in closer to home. I want you to think of it as a way to maximize the captured kernels when you harvest, and we do that in two ways. First is making sure all the corn is standing when we get to the field and second being managing kernel loss through harvesting at the optimum moisture.
The first way takes some scouting and evaluations that are a good exercise for you and your Field Sales Agronomist. Walking field by field, hybrid by hybrid to observe, evaluate and document the quality of your stands out in the field. This exercise gives you two very useful pieces of information, it allows you to take one last look at how management influenced the end of the season look of each hybrid, and it gives you an opportunity to feed that OODA loop one final time before harvest. This also helps you formulate a plan and go after the fields that need to be harvested first before they become problems, significantly reducing the amount of ear loss from down corn, and optimizing your fuel and labor costs during harvest. That optimization of harvest cost is something you normally don’t notice till after harvest is over and you have used more fuel, put more hours on equipment, and paid more for labor during harvest than you expected. Down corn alone has the potential to account for 15-25% loss in those worst case scenarios.
The less popular reason I would like you to make this plan is to get out and harvest your corn with a target average moisture of 20%, and I know with lower grain prices this gets tougher to justify but I feel like there is opportunity there because when we do that we eliminate two forms of harvest loss at once. We eliminate the afore mentioned ear loss from down corn, but we also reduce the effects of “phantom loss”. Phantom loss is a combination of the same shrink you would experience if you dried it at home or took it to your local elevator. It was dried there, and then it’s 3-5% loss that we have had trouble recapturing during harvest either through head shelling or light kernels that get blown out of the back of the combine.
This second form of loss can account for a net gain of $20-$30 per acre over drying costs because of the total bushels of yield reductions. When you start to put all the optimizations and reductions together the idea of starting corn harvest at 25% and ending about 16% starts to pencil out better all the time. If you get nothing else out of this exercise, it will be the elimination of the stress and aggravation of finishing your harvest year on downed corn, which is worth it to everyone else involved.
Lastly as we get closer to harvest take a second to make safety a priority, all this planning and preparation for the season ahead and focus on safety now. Then through that plan, things will slow down at harvest, and you can focus on safely doing your job because that is what’s most important.