Andrew Westfall column sig

With harvest in full swing around the area, we are beginning to hear reports of yields, indicative of the success of this year’s crop.

Along with yield reports, you may also hear farmers and those in the ag sector discuss crop moisture and test weight. What do these numbers mean, and are they important indicators of a good season?

Let’s take a closer look.

When a farmer discusses their yield, the number is given to us in bushels per acre (bu/ac). According to the USDA, the last time data was compiled in 2019, the average corn yield in White County, Ind., was 177.6 bu/ac, with soybeans topping out at 52.8 bu/ac. This compares with state averages of 169 bu/ac and 51 bu/ac, respectively for corn and soybeans for that year.

Yields will vary from year to year and from field to field due to various factors, namely weather and soil productivity, but all in all these numbers give us a good average to go by when discussing a yield that most farmers would be pleased with.

As always, keep in mind that the numbers that are thrown around at any given coffee shop or grain elevator may be slightly skewed.

To put this amount of grain in perspective, keep in mind that over 80% of White County is planted with crops each year. A few more acres of corn are planted each year than soybeans, with the 2019 data totaling 134,000 acres of corn harvested. At 177.6 bu/ac, this comes out to 23.8 million bushels of corn that is moved around the county in an average year!

The next number you will hear thrown around is grain moisture, which is simply the percentage of water within the grain. At maturity, corn will have a moisture content of around 30%.

However, ideal harvest moistures for field corn will usually fall between 15% and 20%. Many farmers will begin harvest before this, and dry the grain down in bins before hauling it to the grain elevator, while others will wait for this dry down and take it straight to town.

There is some risk involved with both strategies, as corn that is harvested “wet” will need to dry down quickly in storage or run the risk of becoming moldy. Farmers that wait too long for field drying also run a risk: leaving corn in the field makes it susceptible to the elements, mainly wind which can lead to a difficult harvest.

Lastly, and perhaps most confusing, we have grain test weight. Test weight measures the amount of grain that will fit into a bushel. Dried corn weighs 56 pounds per bushel, while market ready soybeans weigh 60 pounds per bushel.

Is this number important? Yes, however it is not an indicator of yield. Farmers do like to see higher test weights as it can be an indicator of grain quality and factors into the amount of grain they sell in a truckload.

For example, there are more bushels in corn with a test weight of 58 than the same truck hauling corn with a test weight of 54.

Many factors influence test weight including: grain moisture at the time of testing, hybrid variability, corn ear rots, and stress during grain fill coming in the form of disease issues, drought stress and/or cold temperatures.

Andrew Westfall is director of Purdue Extension White County (Ind.).

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