Farming 101: How Do Farmers Determine If Their Crop Is Dry Enough To Harvest, Store, or Sell?

Every year as fall arrives farmers need to determine when their fields will be ready for harvest.  Many factors go into making that determination such as standability, plant maturity, plant health and grain moisture content just to name a few.  For the purposes of this post, lets talk about moisture content in field corn and how that plays into a farmers harvest plan.

First off, lets start with a little background information.

There are many types of corn grown throughout the United States, including Sweet Corn, which you buy at the store or farm stand in the summer, and #2 yellow dent field corn, which is most commonly grown by farmers throughout the Midwestern ares of the nation.  Sweet Corn is most commonly harvested by farmers as a produce type product in mid summer at a very high moisture content, when the kernels are tender and full of sugars, which is what makes it one of my favorite summertime foods!  #2 Yellow Dent Field Corn is quite the opposite.  Field Corn is harvested by farmers as a grain product in the fall months when the kernels are dry, hard, and full of starches.  While Sweet Corn goes directly into the food chain as canned corn or consumed directly off the cob, field corn has thousands of uses including Livestock Feed, Corn Flours, Corn Syrups, Ethanol to fuel your cars and much much more.

As you may already know, Sweet Corn has a short shelf life.  Ears left in the refrigerator or left out on the counter do not last very long.  However, Field Corn has a much longer shelf life if managed correctly.  The shelf life of Field Corn is largely determined by how much moisture is in the kernels themselves.  The higher the moisture content is there is a greater chance of the Corn spoiling in storage. The ideal moisture content for stored Field Corn is around 14-15%.  Click here to view a chart on Field Corn’s Shelf Life

So How do farmers determine if their crop is dry enough to harvest, store, or sell?  

The picture below shows 2 devices we use on our farm for determining the moisture content of our grain.  They work for multiple crops but for this post we will concentrate on Field Corn.  For reference the moisture tester on the left is around 4 years old while the tester on the right is around 25 years old.  Both are very accurate but the newer tester has a few other useful features we can discuss later.

Ears ready to be tested

Ears ready to be tested

To determine if a field is ready to harvest, we first must determine the moisture content of the grain in the field.  To do so, we walk out into the field, walk down a row of corn for a few hundred feet and pick a few ears at random.  For example, if the field is 80 acres in size, we will walk into around 3-4 areas in the field and pick 1-2 representative ears from each area.  In the picture above, we picked 5 ears to test.

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Shelled Kernels ready to be put into the tester

Now that we have our ears picked and the husks are removed, we break the ears in half and begin to remove the kernels, by hand, into a bucket.  While the entire ears kernels will be harvested, we normally test the kernels from the middle of the ear.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

The filled tester cup, ready to be tested.

After the majority of the kernels have been removed from each ear, we blend them in the bucket and remove a measured sample for our older tester to test.

Dumping in the corn

Dumping in the corn

Next we slowly dump the corn into the tester.  This has to be done slowly to be accurate.

The tester filled with corn

The tester filled with corn

After we dump the corn into the tester, we wait 15 seconds then press the button in the lower right hand corner of the tester, and it gives us an accurate reading of the kernels moisture content.  This test reads 15.6%.  This means the field is ready to be harvested and stored directly into one of our grain bins.

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The newer tester operates on the same principles as the older one does, but is a little different.

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With this tester, we fill the clear container with corn and place it atop the tester before we dump it in.  This clear container has a special black slide gate on the bottom of it which helps slow the amount of kernels going into the tester when opened.  Much like the older tester, it has to be filled slowly to provide accurate results.

IMG_6539When filled, we remove the clear container and run the test.  The corn we tested here has a 29.2% moisture content which was too wet to harvest at the time of this test.  As you may notice, this tester also provides us with other information including test weight (how much a bushel of this corn would weigh) and what the temperature of the grain is.

To store the grain in our grain bins, we need the moisture content to be at or under 15% as a rule of thumb.  Some farmers like it a little higher and some lower, but 15% is our target.  There are many times we harvest corn that is above 15% moisture and have to dry the corn artificially before we can store it in our bins.  Check back for an upcoming post: Farming 101: How Farmers Dry Their Corn For Storage for more information on how we dry our corn.

 

Do you have any Questions or Comments?  

Feel free to post them in the comment section below.  I will gladly do my best to answer them asap!

 

The Sweet Taste of #Ethanol?

It’s going to be beautiful day in late July. The morning is cool and dewey, but we know it’s going to heat up and get humid. So we get up early, get out a bunch of bowls, 1 quart ziplock bags, my Moms newly sharpened paring knives, a few 5 gallon buckets, a turkey fryer filled with water and a pick up truck. It’s Sweet Corn freezing day on the farm.
It’s been a tradition for as far as I can remember. Getting up early, picking a pick-up bed full of sweet corn, cleaning it, cooking it (boiling it in the turkey fryer if you were wondering), cooling it, cutting it off the cob, filling the bags, taste testing (for quality reasons of course 😉 ) and finally freezing it for future meals throughout the year. It’s a lot of work but it’s so worth it. The funny thing is, I’ve never had one bite of sweet corn taste like Gas, well Ethanol anyway.

Wait what? There is Ethanol in the Sweet Corn we eat?
No, there is no type of Corn that tastes like any fuel product either, but here’s a fact you may not know.

Ethanol is not made from Sweet Corn

This cartoon came across my FB feed yesterday.

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At first sight, I chuckled, but after reading a few comments below it. I felt compelled to address it. The Mom in the cartoon is relating sweet corn consumption and hunger to Ethanol use. The fact is, Ethanol is NOT made from Sweet Corn at all. It is NOT made from the same Corn you buy in your produce isle or farmers market to have at your next meal.

Ethanol is in fact made from #2 yellow dent corn. Never heard of it? Sure you have, if you have ever seen a field of corn while driving down the interstate, more than likely it’s a field of #2 Yellow Dent Corn, more commonly known as field corn. In fact there was about 90million acres of it planted across our nations heartland this past spring. However, you won’t find any of it in your local produce section. Why? Let’s just say that although very few people actually like it, it really does’t taste very good.

While Sweet Corn is largely grown for direct human consumption, Field Corn (#2 yellow dent) is mainly grown for some food production, livestock feed, and to be turned into countless other things, including Ethanol, which gets mixed into our nations gasoline supplies. It can be argued that Ethanol helps reduce our nations dependence on foreign oil and increases the octane level of our gasoline all while making each gallon of gas about 20 cents cheaper than straight gas. But that’s not my point.

What does this all mean? It means that the kid in this cartoon can feel free to eat his ear of Sweet Corn without guilt. It means the price you pay for Sweet Corn at the store and the supply there of are not affected directly by Ethanol because it doesn’t come from Sweet Corn at all. It means that my family and I can go to the gas station, purchase E10, E15, or E85 mixed gasoline and still be able to freeze our pick-up load of Sweet Corn every year.

Why? Because Ethanol Does Not Come From Sweet Corn

Want to learn more about Ethanol? Click here for some Ethanol Facts.

Want to know if your vehicle can run on E85? ( Flex Fuel Vehicle). Click here.