May 21, 2024

Sooner or later: Pioneer offers tips for harvest timing

Proper timing of corn harvest has important implications for harvestable yield, grain drying costs and profits.

WEST BROOKLYN, Ill. — Properly timing corn and soybean harvest is a critical crop management decision.

While an early harvest can reduce field losses, drying costs can increase. Likewise, harvesting later reduces drying costs, but may result in decreased crop quality and reduced yield.

“If you haven’t been out scouting in your fields yet, right before drydown is a good time,” said Pioneer Field Agronomist Crystal Williams. “While it won’t tell you the full yield story, it can help prioritize fields for harvest.”

Grain moisture levels at harvest affect grain quality, as well as the time and cost required to dry the grain. Wet grain can incur damage during combining, handling and drying.

If grain quality is significantly reduced during harvest and drying, grain losses can occur and dockage may result.

University of Minnesota Extension recommends a guideline of 24% to 25% grain moisture to begin harvest, noting today’s farmers have the logistics for handling and drying corn.

Achieving this requires close monitoring of crop conditions during drydown. Timing corn harvest to maximize profitability means striking a balance between maximizing bushels harvested and minimizing drying costs.

Crystal Williams

Pioneer’s Tips For Harvest Timing


• For corn, scout fields to gauge stalk strength with pinch or push tests. Cut plant stalks to look for partial hollowness in the center. Scouting about two to three weeks before the expected harvest date can identify fields with weak stalks prone to lodging. Slate those fields for early harvest.

• Check ears before harvest for grain quality and molds. Corn-on-corn fields and those with high plant populations can be more susceptible to reduced quality. Harvest these on the earlier side.

• Create a plan using scouting notes along with yield estimates to harvest fields at greatest risk early so that corn can be dried down to 15% moisture, preventing yield losses. Yield Estimator at is a free tool from Granular Insights to digitize yield checks. Learn more at

• Calibrate yield monitors as you harvest and make sure to recalibrate as conditions change.

• Take notes on problem fields before and during harvest such as those hit by tar spot, which can lead to poor stalk integrity and lodging during high winds. Adjust field timing accordingly.

• Consider harvesting earlier. There’s a trend toward harvesting wetter corn, according to Minnesota corn agronomist Jeff Coulter. He recommends a guideline of 24% to 25% grain moisture to begin harvest, noting today’s farmers are situated with logistics for handling corn and having it dried. Others recommend 20% to 25% moisture levels to begin harvest.


• Harvest soybeans sooner than you think you should, at 15% to 16% moisture, rather than waiting for the optimum level of 13%. You can still make more money, compared to harvesting and hauling 11% beans to the elevator, even when typical shrink factors and drying charges are assessed.

• Use a crop development model such as SoyWater from University of Nebraska-Lincoln — — to help predict soybean growth stages and the earliest possible harvest dates of a given field based on planting date, maturity group and soil type.

• Learn more on how early harvesting can cut yield loss and also help you manage risk and improve net income from this collection of Michigan State University Extension articles, organized by date, at

• Be vigilant for yield robbers such as green stem disorder, which can force you to cut ground speed and increase engine power, burning more fuel. Harvest delays can ramp up chances of shattering, lodging and seed decay, so don’t wait for the stems to dry down if pods are mature.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor