Corn harvest is starting to wind-down in some regions, while in other areas a considerable amount of corn remains to be harvested, and many of this fall’s harvest problems continue for farm operators. Producers in the some portions of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa are starting to reach the end of the 2009 corn harvest, with less than 20% of the corn remaining to be harvested in these areas. However, in portions of southeastern, central and western Minnesota, and other portions of the Upper Midwest, over half of the corn, and a few soybeans remain to be harvested. As of Nov. 16, only 43% of the corn in Minnesota was harvested, compared to the five-year average of 91% harvested by that date. Wet field conditions and high moisture content of the grain continue to hamper harvest in those regions. Corn moisture content continues to be 23-26% or higher in some of these areas, and recent rainfalls have added to the wet field conditions.

The shortage of propane gas to dry corn continues to be a major issue in many parts of the Midwest, especially in areas such as west-central and southeast Minnesota. The propane shortage appears to have eased somewhat in the past week or so in areas where corn harvest is getting closer to completion and grain moisture content has come down. Some farm operators have reported having to shut down corn harvest during the beautiful weather in recent weeks due to temporary shortages of propane. Other producers have been forced to sell wet corn directly out of the field to grain elevators, incurring very large price discounts for the wet corn, while some grain elevators have refused to take wet corn due to tight storage and the shortage of propane. The late harvest throughout the Corn Belt, coupled with very wet corn coming out of the field in most areas of the U.S., has caused the propane shortage issues in 2009.

Corn Test Weight Issues
Corn test weight is often discussed by farmers, grain elevators, seed dealers and others, especially in 2009, when we have had below average to very low test weights with most of the corn being harvested in the Midwest. Test weight is volumetric measurement for a bushel of corn, which is measured at 1.244 cu. ft. The standard test weight for U.S. No. 1 yellow corn is 56 lbs./bu. A test weight down to 54 lbs. is acceptable for No. 2 yellow corn. When corn is sold in the U.S., it is typically sold on a per-bushel basis, based on the weight of the corn adjusted to 15% or 15.5% moisture, which is factored by 56 lbs./bu., in order to determine the number of bushels being sold. As a result, when corn test weights are only 50-54 lbs./bu., such as in 2009, it takes a lot more volume of corn to reach the same bushels as 56-lb. test weight corn. Many grain elevators and corn processors also apply additional price discounts for corn that is below a 54-lb. test weight.

There is not a very close correlation between yield and test weight in corn. In some recent years, we have had very good yields, with relatively high test weights of 56 lbs./bu. or higher. In 2009, many regions have good to excellent corn yields, with very low test weights of 50-54 lbs./bu. Some of the variation in test weight can be attributed to differences in corn hybrids; however, growing season weather conditions are usually the biggest factor leading to test weight variations from year-to-year. When corn has been stressed during the growing season due to drought or excess moisture, or if corn receives a frost before reaching full physiological maturity, low corn test weight issues are more likely to be prevalent. All of these issues have occurred in various locations of the Midwest during the 2009 growing season. As corn is dried down naturally in the field, or through a corn dryer, there tends to be a slight improvement in corn test weights.

Happy Thanksgiving
As we approach Thanksgiving, farm operators in many areas are still struggling to complete the 2009 harvest and fall fieldwork. Even though we have had a difficult fall for farming in 2009, let’s be thankful for nice weather pattern in September that allowed many of our crops to reach maturity before the first frost, and for the nice weather in November that has allowed us to make significant progress on the 2009 harvest before winter arrives.

Let’s hope for a safe and successful completion to the harvest season in all areas. Even as many farm operators are facing increased expenses and lower profits in 2009, especially livestock producers, let’s remember that there are large numbers of people throughout the world, and even in the U.S., who can not afford to adequately feed themselves or their families. Let’s all be thankful for the bounties and blessings that we have, even in times that are more difficult than we have seen in recent years.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.