Estimating yield losses in drought-damaged corn

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Given current daily heat unit accumulation, much of the corn crop is likely to achieve black layer (physiological maturity) before the end of August. A continuation of high temperatures will promote rapid grain drydown and the potential for an early harvest. In upcoming weeks, corn growers with drought damaged fields may want to estimate grain yields prior to harvest in order to help with marketing and harvest plans.

Two procedures that are widely used for estimating corn grain yields prior to harvest are the yield component method (also referred to as the "slide rule" or corn yield calculator) and the ear weight method. Each method will often produce yield estimates that are within 20 bu/ac of actual yield. Such estimates can be helpful for general planning purposes.

The yield component method was developed by the Agricultural Engineering Department at the University of Illinois. The principle advantage to this method is that it can be used as early as the milk stage of kernel development, a stage many Ohio corn fields have probably achieved. The yield component method involves use of a numerical constant for kernel weight which is figured into an equation in order to calculate grain yield. This numerical constant is sometimes referred to as a "fudge‑factor" since it is based on a predetermined average kernel weight. Since weight per kernel will vary depending on hybrid and environment, the yield component method should be used only to estimate relative grain yields, i.e. "ballpark" grain yields. When below normal rainfall occurs during grain fill (resulting in low kernel weights), the yield component method will overestimate yields. In a year with good grain fill conditions (resulting in high kernel weights) the method will underestimate grain yields.

In the past, the yield component method equation used a "fudge factor" of 90 (as the average value for kernel weight, expressed as 90,000 kernels per 56 lb bushel), but kernel size has increased as hybrids have improved over the years. Dr. Bob Nielsen at Purdue University suggests that a "fudge factor" of 80 to 85 (85,000 kernels per 56 lb bushel) is a more realistic value to use in the yield estimation equation today http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/YldEstMethod.html.  

Emerson Nafziger, Ph.D., the University of Illinois notes that under current drought stress “….If there's a fair amount of green leaf area and kernels have already reached dough stage, using 90 [as the “fudge-factor “] might be reasonable. It typically doesn't help much to try to estimate depth of kernels at dough stage, when kernel depth is typically rather shallow anyway, especially if there are 16 or more kernel rows on the ear. If green leaf area is mostly gone, however, and kernels look like they may be starting to shrink a little, kernels may end up very light, and using 120 or even 140 [as the “fudge-factor”] might be more accurate”. http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=1695.

Step 1. Count the number of harvestable ears in a length of row equivalent to 1/1000th acre. For 30‑inch rows, this would be 17 ft. 5 in.

Step 2. On every fifth ear, count the number of kernel rows per ear and determine the average.

Step 3. On each of these ears count the number of kernels per row and determine the average. (Do not count kernels on either the butt or tip of the ear that are less than half the size of normal size kernels.)

Step 4. Yield (bushels per acre) equals (ear #) x (avg. row #) x (avg. kernel #) divided by 90.

Step 5. Repeat the procedure for at least four additional sites across the field. Given the highly variable conditions present in many stressed fields, repeat the procedure throughout field as many times as you think appropriate, then calculate the average yield for all the sites to make a yield assessment of the entire field.

Example: You are evaluating a field with 30‑inch rows. You counted 24 ears (per 17' 5" = row section). Sampling every fifth ear resulted in an average row number of 16 and an average number of kernels per row of 30. The estimated yield for that site in the field would be (24 x 16 x 30) divided by 90, which equals 128 bu/acre.

The ear weight method can only be used after the grain is physiologically mature (black layer), which occurs at about 30‑35% grain moisture. Since this method is based on actual ear weight, it should be somewhat more accurate than the yield component method above. However, there still is a fudge factor in the formula to account for average shellout percentage.

Sample several sites in the field. At each site, measure off a length of row equal to 1/1000th acre. Count the number of harvestable ears in the 1/1000th acre. Weigh every fifth ear and calculate the average ear weight (pounds) for the site. Hand shell the same ears, mix the grain well, and determine an average percent grain moisture with a portable moisture tester.

Calculate estimated grain yield as follows:

Step A) Multiply ear number by average ear weight.

Step B) Multiply average grain moisture by 1.411.

Step C) Add 46.2 to the result from step B.

Step D) Divide the result from step A by the result from step C.

Step E) Multiply the result from step D by 1,000.

Example: You are evaluating a field with 30‑inch rows. You counted 24 ears (per 17 ft. 5 in. section). Sampling every fifth ear resulted in an average ear weight of 1/2 pound. The average grain moisture was 30 percent. Estimated yield would be [(24 x 0.5) / ((1.411 x 30) + 46.2)] x 1,000, which equals 135 bu/acre.

Because it can be used at a relatively early stage of kernel development, the Yield Component Method may be of greater assistance to farmers trying to make a decision about whether to harvest their corn for grain or silage. Since drought stress conditions in some fields may result in poorly filled small ears, there may be mechanical difficulties with combine harvest efficiency that need to be considered. When droughts occur, it’s often cheaper to buy corn for grain than to buy hay for roughage (because of likely forage deficits). Therefore, there may be greater benefit in harvesting fields with marginal corn grain yield potential for silage.

References

 Nafziger, E. 2012. Estimating Yields of Stressed Corn. The Bulletin, Univ of Illinois. http://bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=1695 [URL checked July 2012].

Nielsen, RL. 2011b.  Estimating Corn Grain Yield Prior to Harvest. Corny News Network, Purdue University. http://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/corn/news/timeless/YldEstMethod.html. (URL checked July 2012).




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