corn and snow

There are many factors farmers need to consider before deciding to leave their corn crop overwinter in the field.

Wet fields, delayed maturity of the row crops and low commodity prices paired up with high propane prices have resulted in some farmers saying maybe they will leave part of their 2019 row crops to stand in the field throughout the winter and harvest next spring when they will be at a lower moisture level.

But before making that decision, there are many factors a producer needs to consider according to Ken Hellevang, NDSU Extension ag engineer and one of the nation’s foremost sources on drying and storing crops.

“We are looking at two different scenarios. One is will the corn meet maturity or not, and the same thing is true for soybeans?” Hellevang questioned. “Second is how much of a crop drying window will we see this fall? We could be facing this issue with not only corn, but our soybeans as well. However, soybeans is not a good crop to let stand over winter.”

Focusing on corn, he outlined what producers might expect to happen if some of the crop is left standing in the field over the winter months.

“Yes, there will be some drying that takes place over winter if we do let it stand out in the field. The corn left out in the field may drop down to about 20 percent moisture. But, what we learned last time was that if they are going to let it stand over winter, we first need to check stalk strength and how well the ear is attached to that stalk. If we don’t have good stalk strength or ear attachment, then our losses could be extreme,” he noted.

In addition, factors such as damage by wildlife and related to weather during the winter months must also be considered when making this decision. The quality of the standing crop may also suffer due to the development of ear mold or mycotoxins, which can greatly decrease the corn’s value either as a feed source or for use in an ethanol plant. High levels of mold or mycotoxins may result in the buyer refusing to take delivery. Growers need to check with alternative buyers to determine both the base price for the corn, as well as any price discounts that may apply, based on information from a publication by NDSU Extension on corn ear molds. .

The makeup of the soil is also important when deciding whether to leave the corn in the field over winter, he noted. By May, the corn will usually get down to a moisture content that will allow harvest at or near storage moisture. If we are on sandy soil that might be okay, but on heavier clay soils, it doesn’t dry out, the corn might be dry enough to combine, but the fields might be so muddy that harvest is difficult.

“So my recommendation, if you let the crop stand over winter, is to combine the crop before the spring thaw,” he said. “The later we leave it, the more conflict we are going to have with spring planting. Yes, it will cost them some extra money to do the spring drying, but there are a lot of unknowns that need to be taken into consideration before they make the decision to leave the crop over winter.”

The biggest question the producer should try to answer is: “Will the revenue lost by winter crop damage be less than the cost of drying this fall?”

Considering the many elements listed above may help a producer determine the answer to that biggest question.

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