We're Pretty Corny Around Here

Let's talk about corn!

Corn is a crop that pretty much everyone has seen growing in fields as they drive by. Lots of people wonder, and you may have too, "Why is it turning brown? Why didn't they harvest it before it dried out?" The answer is pretty simple: the corn you see drying out isn't sweet corn! In fact, the only way you'll see this kind of corn in the grocery store is ground into corn meal or grits.

Sweet corn has too much sugar in it to dry properly. It is best for eating (Have you ever eaten an ear pulled straight off the stalk, no cooking required? I would highly recommend it if you get the chance!) and canning.

Field corn (or dent corn, as some midwesterners call it) is what we're focusing on here! In Iredell County (and other areas with dairy farms or even cow-calf operations), we typically see two things done with field corn: chopping and combining.

I'll write a post on silage in the near future, but let's focus on corn for grain right now.

Corn in North Carolina is planted between March and May. We planted the majority of our corn in mid-April. Corn typically matures in 120 days, then it's a waiting game for the moisture percentage to be low enough to harvest it. Moisture is greatly influenced by weather conditions. It has been pretty hot in Iredell County lately, around 90 degrees every day. Last week our corn was testing around 30%. Yesterday it was 18%. We have combined a few loads for some customers who want deer corn, but are largely waiting for it to be around 16%... which could be today!

Moisture is a very important consideration for corn harvest. Some people have dryers in their grain bins- they can harvest their corn at a higher moisture percentage. However, it costs money to run propane dryers, so that cuts into profit margin. An ideal time to have had dryers in Eastern North Carolina would have been two weeks ago, when we were waiting on Hurricane Dorian to come through. Our friends down east were running hard to get their corn in bins in anticipation of up to 12 inches of rain. Thankfully it wasn't as bad as it could have been, but there's a chance that some corn was brought in at a higher moisture content than is ideal.

Too high moisture can lead to spoilage and rotting, price dockage at mills, and even fire and spontaneous combustion.

Corn is planted on rows that are spaced 30 inches apart. The corn header on our combine has fingers that go between the rows to guide the stalks into the header. The ears are stripped off the stalks and go through the combine, which takes the kernels off and cleans out the big chunks of material that isn't grain. The grain is stored in the "hopper" in the back of the combine, then offloaded via auger to a grain cart, truck, or bin.

(Image courtesy of AgriExpo)
We market our corn in two different ways: we sell directly to consumers for deer corn and we sell through cash markets to local mills. We don't utilize futures contracts at this time. (Grain marketing is extremely confusing and as I learn, I'll share on the blog!)

Field corn is used for many different things: livestock feed, food for humans (grits, cornmeal, cereal, corn starch, etc.), ethanol and biofuel, as well as things like crayons, chewing gum, and shampoo! 

Corn is an extremely useful plant and fun crop to grow and harvest! Be sure to keep an eye on my Instagram for behind the scenes of corn harvest in the coming days!

1 comment

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