Top 5 Harvest Tips for Maximizing Yield Potential

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After months of preparation and hard work (planting, scouting, irrigating, replanting, applying fertilizer, spraying), harvest time is almost here. While early planning and preparation are essential to maximizing yields, there are still some decisions you can make today that can have a significant effect on your corn production. That’s why we’ve outlined five tips to help you maximize your yield potential at harvest.

Picking the right time to harvest your corn is an important step in maximizing your yield potential. In general, the longer you wait to harvest your corn after it reaches physiological maturity, the more your yield potential is reduced due to respiring grain in the field (a.k.a. “phantom yield loss"). However, you don’t want to harvest too early as this could mean higher drying costs due to the higher amount of moisture content.

That’s why grain moisture content should start to be monitored soon after physiological maturity (black layer). Shoot for a harvest moisture content level that minimizes both your harvest losses and grain drying costs. However, don’t wait too long to harvest as harvesting at lower moistures can increase mechanical losses due to ear drop, stalk lodging, and kernel shattering. Consider beginning harvest when corn grain moisture content is a little above 25% so that harvesting can be finished before corn dries completely in the field.

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Lodged corn, often a result of stalk rot issues or extreme weather, not only makes harvesting more difficult, but it can also reduce yield potential. Determining your crop’s stalk integrity before lodging becomes an issue is a good way to protect your corn’s yield potential. There are two methods to determine stalk integrity: the pinch test and the push test.

The pinch test is conducted by squeezing the second or third internode above the ground. If it collapses, stalk quality is compromised. The push test is performed by pushing a corn stalk to approximately a 45-degree angle. If it breaks, stalk quality has been reduced. Conduct either test on 10 plants in a row and at several locations in the field. If more than 10% of the stalks tested show poor stalk quality, or lodge at the root, the field should be slated for early harvest.

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Push test 1

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Existing and potential stalk and root lodging, disease pressure, and moisture content can affect harvest order. Stalk cannibalization and physiological stalk lodging can be due to nitrogen loss from excessive early season rainfall. With excessive cannibalization and abundant stalk rots, fields need to be monitored closely to develop a harvest schedule that can help minimize lodging and harvest loss.

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Achieving proper combine settings can help increase combine efficiency, maximize grain quality, and minimize field losses. [Note: Be sure to refer to the manufacturer’s equipment setting recommendations and follow any recommended safety precautions.]

Listed below are a few combine preparation tips:
  • To minimize seed coat damage, start with the lowest manufacturer recommended cylinder speed setting. Only enough speed to adequately thresh the grain should be used while keeping losses to acceptable levels.

  • Airflow to clean grain is normally set at a higher level, and then reduced just below the point where the grain is blown out the rear of the cleaning shoe.

  • Deck plated/snapping rollers should be adjusted to match the size of ear and stalks. This can help avoid shelling on the ear and slipping through the front of the machine.

  • Spacing between plates should be 1.25 inches in a normal crop and ear savers (shields that keep ears from falling to the ground) should be maintained on the corn header.
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Talking to your local technical agronomist is a great way to get localized advice about the best time to harvest your fields.

For that, we're here to help, too. Here's a list of TAs in your area and a hotline you can call where an Ag Expert is waiting to hear from you

Have a question right now? Call the AgKnowledge Now H​otline where we have an
ag expert waiting to hear from you.
(314) 384 - 5484

1University of Illinois ex​tension​​​​​​​​​​​​​