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A timely corn harvest is necessary for getting the highest potential grain yield or silage quality. The monitoring of grain or silage moisture and corn stalk integrity is important in establishing the order of harvesting fields.
The best time for harvesting corn for silage is when kernels are well dented but before the leaves turn brown. Corn products can vary in appearance, but generally plants that are ready for harvest have some browning of the lower leaves with the upper 3/4 of the plant still green, husks will be dried to a tan color, and ears will have fully dented and glazed kernels. Whole plant moisture should be in the range of 60 to 70%. The quantity and quality of the silage will be at peak during this time. This generally occurs when the kernel milk line spans 1/2 to 2/3 of the kernel; however, this can vary among products and environmental conditions. Corn at physiological maturity (R6) or black layer can also be ideal for silage.
Corn silage harvest timing should be based on the whole-plant moisture content, not just on the kernel milk line. Whole-plant moisture is generally around 68% when corn reaches 1/2 milk line, and considered ready to harvest for silage. However, some corn products, especially those with good stay-green, may not be ready until later. Under good drying conditions, whole-plant moisture content will typically drop 0.5% per day, but can drop up to 1% per day in hot and dry conditions. It may even exceed 1% pre day when corn has been stressed and grain is poorly filled. Use the milk line to determine when to start moisture testing. Use expected dry down rates to help determine approximate harvest dates. Only when accurate moisture is known can a producer make reasonable management decisions on when to harvest.
When harvesting grain, shoot for a grain moisture level that will provide a good balance between minimizing harvest losses and keeping grain drying costs down. Field drying of mature corn grain is influenced primarily by weather factors like temperature and humidity. Warmer temperatures and lower humidity encourages rapid field drying of corn grain. With high temperatures, it is extremely easy to underestimate grain drying rates. However, a plan to take advantage of the rapid drydown and allow everything to field dry could be a very costly mistake. Harvesting at lower moistures can increase mechanical losses due to ear drop, stalk lodging, and kernel shattering. There may be greater potential to capture the most revenue per acre when harvesting at 23-25% grain moisture rather than at 15-18%.
Fields should be scouted and monitored for issues that would change your field priority in harvesting order. Existing and potential stalk and root lodging, disease pressure, and moisture content can affect harvest order. Fields should be monitored closely to develop a harvest schedule that can help minimize lodging and harvest loss.
Nennich, T. and Harrison, J. 2005. Corn silage harvest guidelines and options. Western Dairy News. Volume 5, number 9. September 2005. http://www.cvmbs.colostate.edu. Web site verified 8/8/16. 160810104608