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Drydown in corn: What to expect?

By Peter Thomison, Ohio State University Extension

Many corn growers may encounter slower than normal drydown this fall due to late crop development associated with June planting dates. Much of Ohio’s late-planted corn may not achieve black layer until mid-October or later when drying conditions are less favorable for drydown. Once corn achieves physiological maturity (when kernels have obtained maximum dry weight and black layer has formed), it 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 ½% to 3/4% per day. By late October to early November, field dry‑down rates will usually drop to 1/4% to 1/2% per day and by mid-November, probably zero to 1/4% per day. By late November, drying rates will be negligible.

Estimating dry‑down rates can also be considered in terms of Growing Degree Days (GDDs). Generally, it takes about 30 GDDs to lower grain moisture each point from 30% down to 25%. Drying from 25 to 20 percent requires about 45 GDDs per point of moisture. In October, we typically accumulate about 5 to 10 GDDs per day. However, note that the above estimates are based on generalizations, and it is likely that some hybrids may vary from this pattern of drydown. Some seed companies indicate considerably lower GDDs for grain moisture loss, i.e. 15 to 20 GDDs to lower grain moisture each point from 30% down to 25% and 20 to 30 GDDs per point from 25% to 20%.

Past Ohio research evaluating corn drydown provides insight on effects of weather conditions on grain drying. During a warm, dry fall, grain moisture loss per day ranged from 0.76% to 0.92%. During a cool, wet fall, grain moisture loss per day ranged from 0.32% to 0.35%. Grain moisture losses based on GDDs ranged from 24 to 29 GDDs per percentage point of moisture (i.e., a loss of one percentage point of grain moisture per 24 to 29 GDDs) under warm dry fall conditions, whereas under cool wet fall conditions, moisture loss ranged from 20 to 22 GDDs. The number of GDDs associated with grain moisture loss was lower under cool, wet conditions than under warm, dry conditions.

Weather related crop stress may affect drydown this year. Bob Nielsen at Purdue University notes, “When areas of fields die prematurely due to stresses like drought, spatial variability for grain moisture at harvest can be dramatic and often creates challenges with the management of the grain dryer operation. This is especially true early in the harvest season when grain moistures of healthier areas of the field are in the low 20s. The spatial variability for grain moisture decreases later in the harvest season as grain moistures throughout the field settle to an equilibrium level (15% or less).”

Agronomists generally recommend that harvesting corn for dry grain storage should begin at about 24% to 25% grain moisture. Allowing corn to field dry below 20% risks yield losses from stalk lodging, ear drop, ear rots, insect feeding damage and wildlife damage.

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