The Phenomenon of Phantom Yield Loss

September 29, 2020

As fall approaches, corn farmers everywhere are gearing up for harvest and preparing their fields. But with all the excitement, there’s also an invisible enemy around the corner: Phantom Yield Loss. To help shed some light on this late-season issue, we’ve brought in Eric Frank, a Channel Seedsman based in Frankfort, Indiana.

Here’s how Eric describes the issue:

"Phantom Yield Loss is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a yield hit that happens to corn when you don’t start harvest earlier. It occurs because you allow the crop to naturally dry down to a certain point before harvest. When it loses that much moisture in the field, it basically cannibalizes itself a little bit."

Controlling Drydown Is Key

A lot of farmers like to harvest their crop on the earlier and wetter side to control drydown. By controlling the drydown process with grain elevators, farmers can help mitigate Phantom Yield Loss. Waiting for the corn to dry out in the field gives it an opportunity to naturally reduce some of its mass. Eric explains it this way: As corn grows, it directs its energy and sugars into producing the biggest and best ear it can. But when it dries down, it almost does the opposite — pulling out its resources as it dries.

What’s the Right Moisture Level?

So what’s the right time to harvest? That’s fairly subjective based on your conditions, but Eric says you start to lose yield right around 13%-16% moisture. The sweet spot for harvest seems to be somewhere between 20%-25% moisture — but sometimes weather conditions don’t give you the opportunity to wait until the perfect percentage to harvest.

Eric recently finished walking a corn field that experienced some hail damage. His farmer needed to start shelling his corn, but it was sitting right around 27% moisture. Ideally they would wait for it to be two points drier, but the storm had damaged stalk integrity to the point where they’d risk more yield if they didn’t harvest it now.

Aside from avoiding Phantom Yield Loss, drying costs are also important to consider when choosing the best time to harvest. Keep an eye out for grain elevators that offer a premium discount for drying early — this allows the elevators to space out their operations and lets the farmers save money on drying costs. Plus, an early harvest lets farmers start tillage earlier, which boosts their bottom line as well. Eric says that he’s seen Indiana farmers start shelling corn wetter than they normally would this season (sometimes up to 28% moisture) because their local grain elevator is offering $4 cash plus half-price drying.

Know Your Region and Timing

We can’t talk about Phantom Yield Loss without mentioning regionality and how it affects timing. Eric says that a couple of years ago, he experienced a 180-degree change in weather patterns right after Halloween in Indiana. His farmers immediately went from efficiency to a full standstill. Now those farmers know how bad the weather can get in Indiana during November, so they start a little earlier to plan for an early harvest. Because if it’s between harvesting a wetter crop or waiting until the weather affects harvestability, they’ll always choose the former.

Protecting Your Farm Against the Phantom

Eric will be the first to tell you: Avoiding Phantom Yield Loss is different for every farm. Controlling drydown, watching weather conditions and exploring early drydown elevator discounts are all ways to make the most of your yield. To learn more about developing a game plan against Phantom Yield Loss, talk to your local Channel Seedsman.

At Channel®, we’re committed to helping our farmers maximize performance and profitability through our research and studies. By providing insights and advice, we’re able to help our customers make the most out of our elite seed products.