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This year, U.S. farmers steered their equipment into fields to harvest an estimated 14.6 million metric tons (574 million bushels) of sorghum and 346 million tons (13.6 billion bushels) of corn.
Farmers rely on best practices, or most effective procedures, for timing harvest and adjusting equipment to help achieve an efficient and quality grain harvest. They also know that the efforts put in early in the season to prepare fields, select seed varieties and reduce pests and weeds ultimately pay off at harvest.
Sorghum is a relatively durable grain but, like all grains, must be harvested at the right time to ensure the best possible quality. By inspecting the grain towards the bottom of the plant head, a farmer can determine maturity and set harvest schedules for individual fields.
In addition to determining grain maturity, farmers make concentrated efforts to harvest fields at optimal moisture levels. In sorghum, farmers target moisture levels of 14 percent or below for sorghum dried in the field.
For corn farmers, the weather this fall in major growing regions allowed grain to dry down in the field, resulting in lower moisture levels at harvest than last year.
“Low harvest moisture levels, such as 17 or 15 percent, have been reported in many areas, which has contributed to a higher quality grain that will handle well as it moves through storage and into marketing supply channels,” said Paul Bertels, National Corn Growers Association vice president of production and sustainability.
“The less farmers have to dry down corn in storage, the better for kernels during the storage period as they are less susceptible to cracking and further damage when they are handled and transferred through the supply chain. The downside to drier corn in the field is that kernel loss during harvest results in slightly lower yields, but it goes into storage better and comes out better.”
However, the longer mature grain stays in the field for drying, the greater the chance for weather and insects to adversely affect the quality of the grain – challenges farmers must balance carefully.
Another factor contributing to high yields and quality grain is properly adjusted harvest machinery. Sorghum farmers set harvest headers high enough to harvest grain heads while minimizing the amount of foreign material like leaves and stalks entering the machine. Corn farmers also adjust harvest headers to the proper height and make changes to the rotor speeds as needed.
This, combined with regularly cleaning of sieves to sustain adequate airflow and maintaining moderate to low speed of approximately 3 miles per hour (4.8 kilometers per hour) to minimize harvest losses, contributed to a quality grain harvest in 2015.