In a season marked by significant precipitation prior to planting and recent rains leading into harvest, farmers in the Eastern Corn Belt might expect corn coming out of the field at a higher moisture content than usual. Higher moisture corn could lead to higher energy costs for farmers this fall, according to Ohio State University Extension Production Business Management Leader Barry Ward.
“Last year we didn’t have to dry corn much at all, and this year we’re going to be taking as much as 10 percentage points of moisture out of this corn to get it to market,” Ward said. “Depending on the region, the planting date and summer moisture levels, we’re probably looking at a dry-down of 5 or 10 percent.”
Getting that additional moisture out of the grain will mean additional energy costs if weather conditions don’t provide ample opportunities for Mother Nature to aid in dry-down.
According to Extension corn specialist Peter Thomison, in typical years with normal planting dates between mid-April and late-May, the crop follows a general pattern of dry-down of up to a percentage point of moisture each day from physiological maturity, often called black layer, through early to mid-September when conditions are usually warm and dry.
In October, Thomison said, the rate of dry-down may drop down to half a percentage point, and then by November, a quarter a percentage point, if it dries further at all.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that as of Sept. 25, only 19% of corn in Ohio and 50% of corn in Indiana had reached physiological maturity. The later in the season the corn reaches maturity, the less time farmers have before weather conditions prevent further dry-down in the field, and the more mechanical drying will be necessary.
“We’re looking at dry-down costs of upwards of 40-cents per bushel,” Ward said. “If we assume 150 bushel per acre corn, that means a per acre cost of $63, when compared to a normal year that might only be a $17 per acre cost.”
Ward based his calculations on a liquefied propane cost of $2 per gallon, and said the good news for farmers anticipating higher moisture coming out of the field is that the price of LP appears fairly steady this season.
“Part of that is because we have plentiful natural gas opportunities in this country now,” he explained. “We’re not expecting to see major swings in any of our energy prices, in part because of the global economic slump. I don’t expect large swings in LP prices, and I expect the price this time next year to be pretty much the same as it is now.”
He noted that this year is an outlier in terms of the increased cost of drying, but said last year was also an outlier because farmers had very little cost of drying due to favorable conditions allowing most of the dry-down to be done in the field.
Even so, he said farmers should fare fairly well, even considering the additional drying costs.
“It’s not an insignificant issue because we’re talking potentially $20 to $40 more per acre. The good thing we have going for us, though, is that we are finishing up this year with pretty good profit potential because we have high corn and soybean prices, and only moderate increases in input costs overall. We’re going to take away from our profitability, but it shouldn’t mean losses for most farmers.”