The Data-Driven Harvest Moisture Insights You Need to Know

Harvest moisture is a hot topic this time of year, and agronomists and researchers have varying opinions and recommendations. It’s a complex but important topic — leaving crops to dry down in the field can save on drying costs and processor moisture penalties, but also opens up exposure to yield loss. 

There are a lot variables and obstacles on the path to “ideal” moisture, and often what’s right for one farm or geography can be very different from another. But here at Granular, we’ve been looking at harvest moisture trends for several years and have spotted some patterns that can impact profitability.

Corn Harvest Moisture Over Time

  • Harvest moisture in 2014 and 2019 was especially high due to wet planting seasons. This meant many fields were not planted in time to fully dry down before harvest.
  • A higher corn basis in September of 2013 meant an early harvest for many fields when the drying cost was offset by higher grain price.

When looking at fall 2020, with much of the corn belt experiencing hot and dry conditions, harvest moisture will likely trend down. But the experts we work with still caution to not get into too big of a hurry. Given widespread drought and storm damage this year, it is likely worth allowing corn to dry in the field until at least the low twenties to limit drying costs. Overall, it will be critical to keep an eye on stalk quality to find the right balance of not losing yield potential in the field but drying as little as possible.

Average Soybean Harvest Moisture by State

2016-2019

  • Soybeans typically see less yield loss as they dry down, which means the target harvest moisture should nearly always be the desired storage or delivery moisture. Getting an accurate moisture reading can help pinpoint the ideal time to start bean harvest. 
  • In the northeast, a shorter growing season means that soybean harvest is more likely to be dictated by scheduling rather than moisture.
  • In 2019, 64% of soybeans were harvested between 11 and 14% moisture and 14% were harvested under the 11% delivery target.

Average Corn Harvest Moisture by State

2016-2019
  • Maximum yield is often found by harvesting corn in the high teens or low twenties since dropped ears and stalk damage can reduce yields when drying down in the field. However, harvesting at high moisture typically means paying drying costs through either paying for propane or in fees at the elevator. Make sure you’re accurately accounting for those costs. 
  • Picking the ideal harvest moisture is a nuanced task that should also take into account expected storage conditions and field conditions.
  • Like soybeans, in the northeast a shorter growing season can force farmers to harvest before their corn has dried fully in the field.
  • In 2019, 21% of corn acres were harvested between 15.5 and 18% moisture and 12% were harvested under the 15.5% delivery target.

While looking at trends and regional data can be a helpful starting point when determining the right harvest moisture for your farm, the best data points will come from your own fields. Our team is continuously working to put features in Granular Insights that can help farmers make stronger, more profitable decisions with their own data. 

Create a free account to check out the historical performance of your acres and see what moisture levels yielded best for you in 2019 to help guide your decisions this fall.

See Your Moisture Insights

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Timothy Ivancic is the data science lead on Granular Insights, where he focuses on building data-driven tools to help farmers make profitable decisions. He holds a BS from SUNY New Paltz, an MS from Case Western University, and a PhD in Water Resource Engineering from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

About our methodology and approach to data: we believe farmers own their data, period. Our data science team looks at aggregate, anonymized data with one goal: to give every farm, regardless of size, a level playing field with equal access to informative data and analytics.

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