Corn Drydown After Black Layer

Black layer occurs at physiological maturity and at roughly 30% moisture content. Late planting coupled with a cool growing season can push maturation into potential frost timelines.

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Figure 1

Figure 1. Black layer at base of kernel.

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Corn kernels are around 30% moisture content when physiological maturity or black layer occurs (Figure 1). Several factors influence field drydown after maturity. Kernel moisture content decreases faster with warm, dry weather and may decrease slowly in a wet and cool environment. Fuller season corn products, that require more growing degree units (GDUs) to mature, will likely be slower drying as the fall progresses within an area. Crop maturity can be hastened by dry weather conditions, which usually results in a loss of potential yield as plant death occurs before the kernels gain their full weight and size.

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Typical drying rates after black layer range from 0.4% to 0.8% kernel moisture content loss per day.1 About 30 GDUs per point of moisture are required to dry corn from black layer to 25% moisture content2. Purdue University studies showed that a loss of 0.5% moisture content occurs when the mean accumulation of GDUs is 12 and 0.75% moisture content is lost when the mean accumulation of GDUs is 22 per day, respectively.

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Corn products differ from one another in drydown rates. Plant characteristics that can influence the drydown rate include:3

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  • Number and Thickness of Husk Leaves. Fewer husk leaves and thinner leaves can lead to faster moisture loss.
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  • Husk Dieback. Earlier dieback of husk leaves can lead to more rapid grain drying.
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  • Ear Tip Exposure. Exposed ear tips may provide for quicker grain moisture loss.
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  • Husk Tightness. Husks that are loose and open may help increase grain drying.
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  • Ear Angle. Drooping ears tend to loose moisture more quickly. Upright ears can capture moisture from rainfall.
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  • Kernel Pericarp Properties. Thinner pericarps (outer layer covering a corn kernel) have been associated with faster field drying rates.
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Field drying of corn at maturity (30%) to an acceptable harvest moisture can take two to four weeks or more. Grain bins and dryers may be necessary in the event of a wet harvest and potential variable grain moisture.

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Late Planting and Cool Weather Effects. Late-planted corn can result in taller plants, smaller diameter stalks, pollination when temperatures are hotter, and delayed maturation. Delayed maturation can result in a less than desirable grain moisture content well into the harvest season. Cooler fall temperatures decrease the rate that kernels lose moisture content. This coupled with late planting dates can push maturation into potential frost timeframes.

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Table 1 
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Frost Potential. A killing frost occurs when temperatures near 32° F persist for a few hours or temperatures near 28° F persist for a few minutes. Frost damage at higher temperatures is possible, but highly variable to topography and atmospheric conditions. Fields with light frost damage may still have reasonable grain yield if growing conditions improve after the frost event.4 Table 1 can be used as a reference for historical first frost dates in Southern Minnesota and Wisconsin.