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Edited by Grainnet Editor Kendall Trump
Thursday, December 7, 2017
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Crop Quality Management For The 2017 Harvest

By Charles Hurburgh, Professor, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Professor in Charge, Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, Iowa State University, Ames.

Corn and soybean yields in 2017 were better than expected, which will add to the largest grain surpluses in recent years. As of the Nov. 9, 2017 USDA crop production estimates,, national corn yield estimates exceeded 2016 record yields. 

Soybean yields are estimated to be lower than in the record year of 2016, but total U.S. supply will be larger due to acreage increases.


As of Sept. 1, 2017
, there were an estimated 2.3 billion bushels of corn were in storage and 301 million bushels of soybeans in storage.  

Approximately 30% of the combined carryover was held on farms, and 70% were in commercial facilities.  

By grain, 34% of corn and 29% of soybeans were held on farms.   

The gradual increase of grain on hand going into harvest is expected to continue with corn carryovers from the 2017-18 projected to increase another 200 million bushels.

The 2017 growing season was characterized by significant swings in weather patterns, from very wet in the spring, to very dry in June and July, to moderate and wet in the latter part of the growing season.  

For a time, it appeared that the weather in the middle of the season would both inhibit pollination and create moisture stresses for crop development.  

The U.S. Drought Monitor reached the severe level in early August across much of the major growing area in the western Cornbelt, and the extreme level in a four county area of south central Iowa.   

Dry conditions peaked around Aug. 5-10. The abrupt change of weather patterns in mid-August, to moderate temperatures and wet extended the growing season. This improved the fill and quality of both corn and soybeans.  

With extended growth, harvest moistures were higher, and field drydown was slower than expected as of mid-August. 

Corn yields were near the highs of 2016, and test weights are excellent. Moisture was somewhat above average, and the high kernel densities made for slower drying. Composition was good as indicated by above average protein content.  

Higher yields typically reduce protein, kernel density, and test weight; that trend was not the case this year, likely because of favorable grain filling weather.  

Kernel filling, as measured by dry weight per kernel, was 5-10% above normal, which accounts for the season-long underestimation of yields. Preharvest yield estimates use 5-year average weights per kernel applied to kernel counts per ear.



Corn from the 2017 crop will be slightly above the long-term average in feed value and probably will have slightly lower ethanol yield per bushel. 

The high test weight will create good storability. It will be good corn to use for rotating the stock of 2016 crop that is still in storage.

Soybean yields were not as high as in the previous three years. The processing value, as measured by the total of protein and oil, was somewhat below average.  

The total of protein and oil percentages is about 0.5 percentage points below what would be normal in a given area. Processors should be able to make soybean meal that is close to 47% protein, although meal quantities per bushel will be down.  

There are also larger-than-normal variations in soybean protein and oil from north (lower) to south (higher). Seed size is smaller than it would have been without the dry June and July.  

There was late growth of weeds, because rows did not cover fully over in many cases. Expect foreign material levels from the farm to be higher than the normal 0.5 – 1.0%.

The high test weights and very good kernel fill should reduce grain storage problems. This is fortunate, since long-term storage is very likely with present surpluses.  

The long run of low humidity conditions in late October and early November created low dewpoints and good grain cooling opportunities.  

Any grain in aerated storage should be at 35 degrees F or below. Unaerated temporary (pile) storage is still at temperature risk depending on the temperature of the grain  going into the pile.  

Piles filled from trucks as they came from the field will have more varying temperature and moisture conditions throughout the pile; aeration is the only way to even that out.

The significant amount of carryover grain created situations where 2016 and 2017 grain could be mixed in the same bin. Mixing of old grain that has used its storage life partially with new grain that is not yet stable is likely to create storage problems.  

The best plan is either to rotate the new for the old or combine lots of old crop, so that the new crop can start an empty bin.  

Either of these creates extra work, but that work will pay back, if the grain is stored into the next summer or longer. Any crop year mixtures should be the first grain out with fresh sales.

Finally, the shelf life of the grain needs to be maintained for long-term storage. The storage time is used progressively at the various storage conditions through the year.  

If wet corn is held before drying, significant percentages of the storage time can be consumed, leaving less for the summer months. In 2016, for example, there were poor cooling conditions in the fall (high dewpoints). A lot of the storage life was used.  

There have been many reports of spoilage from blue-eye mold in July and August 2017. In conditions of surplus with long-term storage likely, do not waste the storage life in the fall; it cannot be recovered.

Overall, constantly increasing surpluses are creating storage challenges, but the excellent physical quality of 2017 corn and soybeans should mitigate storage losses for this year, as long as good management practices are followed. 

This means keeping grain cold as long as possible, removing center cores of fines, and bringing outdoor piles or other aerated storages into better quality facilities as rapidly as possible.  

We know that the average storage period will continue to get longer, as carryovers mount.


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