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GRAIN FLOW 101

Corn Farming Process: Growing, Harvesting and Storing Corn Crops

Corn might be one of the most versatile commodities in existence. It’s the primary feed grain in the United States, making up more than 95% of production and use. More than 90 million acres of U.S. land are dedicated to corn, with much of that land situated in the central part of the country. Although many farmers grow corn as livestock feed, it’s also used to make oil, sweetener, starch, alcohol and ethanol.

While there are many varieties of corn, there are two general categories — sweet corn, which is often eaten as a vegetable, and field corn, which is meant for feed and other products. While farmers harvest sweet corn young so the kernels are still fresh, field corn’s harvest date doesn’t occur until the kernels have dried.

Learn more about the corn harvesting process and how to farm corn step-by-step.

How to Grow Corn

Like many other types of grains, corn needs a few elements to thrive:

  • Sunlight: Grow corn in a sunny spot. It needs full sun, or at least six hours of direct sunlight, each day.
  • Soil: Corn thrives when the soil conditions are just right. The soil should have a pH between 5.5 and 7. When the soil is too acidic, the plants won’t get the nutrients they need. The ideal soil also drains well, meaning it doesn’t become too soggy or water-logged when it rains.
  • Water: Speaking of water, corn plants need enough but not too much of it. If conditions are very wet, and there’s too much water in the soil, the plants’ roots can rot. When conditions are too dry, the plants will wilt and struggle to produce ears.
  • Fertilizer: The right fertilizer helps ensure corn plants get the nutrients they need to thrive. Use up to three pounds of fertilizer for every 100 square feet you plant.

Before planting corn, focus on preparing the soil in the area. Remove weeds and large stones or other pieces of debris. Working the top 10 inches of soil before planting will make it loose enough to aid germination and help the roots thrive. If you aren’t sure of the soil’s quality, send it out for testing. A soil test will let you know the pH and the minerals the soil contains.

Corn does best when planted in short — not long — rows. It’s better to have several shorter rows, placed side-by-side, than one long row. Planting in a square pattern helps the corn cross-pollinate. To ensure the corn grows correctly, it’s a good idea to plant one variety in a single area, rather than two or more.

When to Plant Corn

When to plant corn depends on your area and the weather conditions that location experiences. Corn does best in warmer temperatures. Wait to plant the seeds until the soil is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In much of the U.S., the soil is warm enough in late March or early April.

Another point to consider when choosing when to plant corn is how wet the weather is. March and April tend to be very wet months. If conditions are too wet, the seeds can rot or simply not germinate. Too-wet conditions can also make soil compaction more likely, which can suffocate the plant’s roots.

Often, planting corn later in the season is preferable to planting early in later April or early May. Germination rates and yields tend to be highest when corn gets planted between April 20 and May 10. Waiting to plant gives the soil time to sufficiently warm up. It also allows the moisture levels in the soil to even out.

In addition to spring planting, you can plant corn in the fall. Just as you waited for the soil to be at least 50 degrees in spring, wait for its temperature to fall to 50 degrees before planting. Keep in mind that if you’re planting in an area that gets heavy frosts early in the fall season, you might not have enough time to get in a fall crop.

How to Harvest Corn

Harvesting corn largely depends on the type. You’ll harvest sweet corn, used for eating, at a different point than you would field or grain corn. Be sure to harvest sweet corn when the tips of the silk that come out of the ears begin to turn brown. It’s time to harvest field corn when the kernels are nearly fully dried out. Moisture levels should be no more than 25%.

The method you use to harvest corn depends on the size of your field. If you have a large field, a combine can make quick work of the harvesting process. A combine cuts the corn plants down and threshes the kernels off the cobs. The kernels travel to a storage tank while the rest of the plants get deposited back onto the field, where they can fertilize the soil for next year.

In smaller areas, you might want to harvest the corn by hand. Use a sickle or pruners to cut the plants down, then cut the cobs away. If you’re harvesting by hand, you’ll also need to thresh by hand.

How to Thresh Corn

Threshing is the process of removing the kernels from the cob. If you’re harvesting a large area of corn and using a combine, the machine will take care of threshing for you. Otherwise, you’ll need to separate the kernels from the cob yourself.

There are a few ways to thresh corn manually. You can push on the kernels one by one, physically removing them from the cob. You can also rub two cobs against each other. The friction between them will help loosen the kernels. A third option is to place the cobs in a sack and beat the sack, so the kernels fall off.

How to Store Corn Crops

Proper storage is essential to extend the life of field corn. You want to get the moisture content and temperature right to ensure the corn lasts as long as possible. It’s also essential to separate and remove any damaged kernels, as they can cause much of the crop to spoil. You also want to protect the kernels to prevent them from splitting or cracking in storage.

One option is to use cushioned grain bins to protect the kernels. Whether you use a silo or grain bin, the storage location must protect the corn from excessive moisture, temperature extremes and pests.

Explore Custom Corn Handling Equipment From LCDM

With a custom grain handling system, you can make sure you have the equipment and storage facility you need to extend the life of your corn crop and get the most from your yields. LCDM can work with you to design the system that’s just right for your corn handling needs. Contact us today to get started.

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