Corn Belt a Mix of Optimism and Skepticism on Yield

As harvest inches forward across the Corn Belt, farmers are learning what tough weather meant for yield and grain quality.

“Dry conditions over the past month have limited the spread of ear rots,” says Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist. “Most kernels now have the bright yellow color we like to see at harvest, and if the grain reaches maturity and can be harvested without an extended period of wet weather, we can expect grain quality to be good.”


The September USDA report didn’t show a drop in yield for Illinois, Emerson also expects the state will overall have good test weights. Other areas of the Corn Belt, such as Iowa, might not be so lucky.

“I think the majority of test weights, with the exception of a few hybrids, will have low test weights,” says Jake Ekstrand, LG Seed sales representative in Pella, Iowa. “I’ve seen the kernel count is there in places, but they’re shallow.”

He says they area he’s in is exceptionally dry, with Ottumwa experiencing its driest summer since 1948. “I know quite a few guys who ended up chopping corn because they knew yield wouldn’t be there and needed to find a way to make something off the crop,” Ekstrand adds.

What little corn has been harvested so far in southeast Iowa is yielding 40 to 60 bu. per acre less than last year, and soybeans aren’t expected to leave the 35 to 60 bu. per acre range. “All blame goes to the drought, there’s been little disease and insect pressure,” he says.

Don’t be in a rush while harvesting. With the possibility for lower-than-usual yields, it’s critical to gather every precious kernel possible. In soybeans, make sure you’re not letting them get too dry and risk shattering.

“With high temperatures, seeds and pods following maturity will dry within hours instead of days, and we need to be alert and ready to harvest as soon as plants can be cut and seed moisture is at 12 or 13 percent,” Nafziger says. “Seeds less than 10 to 11 percent moisture can crack more easily. This might be one of those years with frequent switching between soybeans and corn harvest.”

Corn could be at risk of kernel loss, too. “I’m telling guys don’t be afraid to harvest at 22% or so moisture,” Ekstrand says. “If that means spending more on drying so be it—you’ll save money in the long run because you pick up more yield.

“Don’t try to make it a quick harvest to rip the Band-Aid of a tough year off. Let’s be efficient and safe, and not in such a rush that you make mistakes,” he adds.