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What is one ear of corn worth?

What is one ear of corn worth?

One ear of corn — it doesn't seem like it holds much value. Even though I'm a corn farmer who grows about 850 acres of corn, there is a lot of worth in one ear of corn. Let's do some math.

If we take the whole farm into account, we plant on average 32,000 seeds per acre. 32,000 x 850 = 27.2 million corn plants. Just to keep things simple, let's say all the corn plants emerged and survived to harvest. In some soils we plant more corn, and some areas we plant less. But one still might wonder why I care about one single ear among 27 million. Here's more math.

In late summer, a few weeks after pollination, we can use a simple formula to get a rough idea of what kind yield we might expect at harvest. I tend to use the Yield Component Method. Because we can't practically count tens of thousands of ears in an acre of corn, we use this method to extrapolate an estimate of yield based on a much smaller area — a thousandth of an acre to be exact.

Using the yield component method, I measure off 17.4 feet of a corn row. Then I count the number of ears within that distance. 17.4 feet equates to a thousandth of an acre in the 30-inch row spacing we plant with. So if I count 32 ears in that area, I simply multiply by 1,000 to figure the number of ears per acre. 32 ears is 32,000 over an acre.

Next I pick a random ear from the row to count the kernels. The yield component method suggests the fifth ear of corn. The idea is not to pick the best or worst looking ear in the group. By counting the number of kernels around the ear multiplied by the number in a row along the length of an ear, I get the number of kernels on the ear. Let's go with an nice ear of 16 around and 32 long — 512 kernels.

512 x 32 = 16,384

This new number derived from kernels multiplied by ears is divided by a factor based on what the general condition of the field may be. I usually start with 85. A lower factor can be used for better conditions. Higher factors are used for worse conditions. This will give a bushels per acre estimate. This practice should be repeated and averaged several times in the same field for a more representative figure.

16384 ÷ 85 = 192.75bu/a

192.75 bushels per acre — that's a pretty good crop! At harvest, the yield monitor (properly calibrated) will tell us the real story. This method gives us a starting point to begin thinking about whether or not to sell crop ahead of harvest. Unfortunately, it isn't super accurate. Last year my estimates were low, so I actually try to be conservative when estimating yield. I'd rather be pleased with a larger harvest than disappointed by a smaller one than I expected.

So how about that one single ear? If we can manage to get one more good ear per thousandth of an acre measured what does that mean to me?

512 x 33 = 16,896

16896 ÷ 85 = 198.78bu/a

A 6.03 bushel advantage from one more ear gained! The cash price for harvest delivery corn at my local elevator today is $4.25 per bushel. So in this scenario, that single ear of corn today is worth another $25.63 per acre. With more than 850 acres, that's an additional $21,785.50 over the whole corn crop. That's no small chunk of change!

Now you can see that a single ear of corn is very important to our operation and why planting season is so critical. We get one chance every year to get each little seed off to a good start. A good start gives that seed a chance to produce a plant that will provide us with one ear at harvest time.

Brian Scott raises corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat on an Indiana farm with his dad and grandpa. He's a husband and dad to two sons and also a proud Purdue Ag Alumni with a Bachelor’s degree in soil and crop management.  Connect with Brian on his blog, The Farmer's Life, where he share pictures of everyday farm life and about subjects that get him excited about farming. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram also.

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