The difficult 2019 corn harvest didn't just complicate the lives of U.S. farmers. It also hurt the quality of the year's crop, a new grain industry report said.
Uncooperative weather led to lower-than-average test weights and above-average amounts of broken corn and foreign material in corn overall, with most of North Dakota, most of South Dakota and all of extreme western Minnesota hit hard by some measures, according to the recently released 2019/2020 Corn Harvest Quality Report from the U.S. Grains Council.
That's not surprising, said Randy Melvin, a Buffalo, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association.
"It was just a very difficult harvest season," reflecting repeated rain and blizzards that delayed and even shut down harvest altogether for some producers, he said.
An estimated 40% to 50% of North Dakota corn remains in fields, with farmers hoping to harvest it in spring.
Keep the national harvest challenges in perspective, however.
Even with the difficulties, the average aggregate quality of corn samples measured in the report indicates that "an abundant amount of good-quality corn is entering the marketing channel from the 2019 crop," the report said.
The report found that 54% of the samples met the grade factor requirements for U.S. No. 1 grade, and 81% met the grade factor requirements for U.S. No. 2 corn.
What's more, the U.S. Grains Council projects this year's crop at 13,661 million bushels, the sixth-largest on record. This year's crop follows the three largest and highest-yielding corn crops in U.S. history, creating "an ample supply" of corn that "allows the United States to remain the world's leading corn exporter," according to the report.
But the report reaffirmed the impact of difficult harvest conditions on the 2019 corn crop, especially in the area consisting of North Dakota, South Dakota, western Minnesota, extreme northern Nebraska and northwest Iowa.
Corn in that area had a collective 1.2% rate of broken corn and foreign material. In contrast, the national average was 1% (up from 0.7% in 2018), with the core of the Corn Belt coming in at 0.9% in 2019.
The report noted that these rates were well below the maximum allowable rate of 2% for No. 1 grade corn.
The lower the percentage of broken corn and foreign material, the better. Lower percentages mean more clean, sound corn available for feeding and processing, the report noted.
Lower test weights also are an issue with the 2019 crop. Test weight (weight per volume) often is used as a general indicator of overall quality.
The overall test weight of the U.S. corn crop in the sample grain was 57.3 pounds per bushel, down from 58.4 pounds per bushel a year ago. The Dakotas/western Minnesota, northern Nebraska and northwest Iowa recorded an average test weight of 55.7 pounds per bushel, with the core of the Corn Belt averaging 57.8 pounds per acre.
A minimum test weight of 56 pounds per bushel is needed to make No. 1 grade corn.
Many factors go into determining measurements such as test weight and broken corn, with the list including grain moisture at harvest, mechanical issues (such as the method of drying) and genetic differences among different corn varieties, said Ken Hellevang, North Dakota State University Extension agricultural engineer. His duties include advising farmers on storage and drying.
"It's difficult to say exactly what's responsible" for less-than-desirable test weight and broken corn and foreign material, Hellevang said.
Farmers waiting to harvest standing corn until spring hope that its quality will be higher than now. But there's also a risk that corn stalks will break over winter, cutting into yields in the spring, Melvin said.
Though corn farmers take quality seriously, they're also keeping the situation in perspective, Melvin said.
"There are worse things than some broken corn kernels," he said.
To read the report: https://grains.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/USGC-Corn-Harvest-Quality-....