Is Early Maturing Corn Profitable


Many farmers try to maximize yields but is that always the most profitable? Planting early season corn and soybean varieties allows farmers time to plant a cover crop which can add carbon and soil organic matter, protect your soil from erosion, and improve water quality. Generally early maturing crops have less moisture and the test weights are higher, but not always. Often it takes a few more bushels on late maturing crops just to pay the drying costs plus the extra transportation cost in hauling water. One farmer stated it takes an extra man just to keep the drier operating. So, the highest yield on late maturing corn may not always be the most profitable.

A DTN article, February 2018 did a comparison of the yield advantage of longer season corn hybrids versus the extra cost of drying. The relationship between corn’s relative maturity (RM) and yield varies around the USA but they calculated a 1% yield difference for each day of relative maturity for most of the northwestern corn belt. So, if you can increase yield by 2% by selecting a hybrid with a two-day longer RM, but then add 1% to your corn moisture content at harvest, what does that 1% extra moisture per bushel cost you?

As a rule of thumb, you can estimate high-temperature drying energy costs per bushel per point of moisture removed by multiplying the propane price per gallon by 0.022. For example, the cost of using $1.50-per-gallon propane is 3.3 cents per bushel per point of moisture ($1.50 per gallon x 0.022). (Andrew Franken, Penn State, 2011). Barry Ward, OSU Economist 2020 farmer custom rate survey the average drying cost is 4 cents (range 3.9 to 7 cents per moisture point removed per bushel).

A rough estimate for capital drying equipment cost based on a 20-year life and 8% interest is $.10 per bushel but this number varies ( Ag Decision Maker). The cost of drying corn will vary depending on the type and size of the drying system, weather conditions during drying, and drying costs (outline above). If we add capital costs (10 cents/bushel) plus drying costs (4 cents), the total cost is $.14 compared to $5 corn, the yield cost is 2.8% ($.14/$5.00) compared to a 2% yield gain. On 200-bushel corn, a 2% yield increase is 4-bushel at $5 or $20 gain but it cost $.14 per bushel to dry those 204 bushels or $28.56. You are paying to remove extra moisture on every bushel you produce of late maturing corn if it is much wetter. A 2% yield gain is not all profit on high moisture corn.

Dr. Peter Thomison, OSU corn specialist says corn yield is not related to corn maturity, its related to moisture at pollination. If you have dry or hot weather at pollination time, moisture stress reduced corn yields. Planting an early season corn variety early in the planting season may allow farmers to catch a rain or reduce moisture stress during the critical pollination period. One reason early maturing corn often yields less than late maturing corn is because almost all farmers plant the late maturing corn first, then their short season varieties. This strategy increases harvest yield risk, because the majority of your corn probably pollinates and matures closer together. Dr. Thomison’s research showed that when early season corn was planted on the same day as the later maturing corn, yield was related to moisture at pollination, and the early season corn yield did just as well on average as the late maturing corn.

Take a look at the OSU Corn and Soybean performance trials. In Northwest Ohio, the 2020 early season corn (less than 108 days) averaged 204.8 bushels, with 21.9 % moisture and 54.6 test weight. The late maturing corn (greater than 108 days) averaged 211.0 bushels, with 25.1 % moisture and 52.3 test weight. The yield advantage was 3% (6.2 bu/204.8 bu) but the yield cost was 3.2 moisture points times 4 cents/bu equal to 12.8 cents (ignoring extra capital costs, labor, transportation) or $.128 on $5 corn or 2.56%. You gained 6.2 bushel @ $5 or $31 but it cost you 211 bushel @ $.128 just for drying or $27. Was it worth it? Since farmers are ordering corn and soybeans to plant next year, consider buying some earlier maturing corn and soybeans and plan to plant some cover crops to improve your soil health!