10 Tips for Harvest Timing, Field by Field

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Your equipment is ready, but where should you start? We offer a refresher on determining the best way to tackle #harvest22.

"No plan survives first contact with the enemy."

Harvest can feel like the final, decisive battle of a yearly campaign to get the most out of your acres. Choosing where to start can seem overwhelming, as each decision and outcome throughout the season can drastically alter your carefully laid plans.


  • Scout fields to gauge stalk strength with pinch and/or push tests. Cut plant stalks to look for partial hollowness in the center. Scouting about 2 to 3 weeks before the expected harvest date can identify fields with weak stalks prone to lodging. Slate those fields for early harvest.
  • Check ears before harvest for grain quality and molds. Corn-on-corn fields and those with high plant populations can be more susceptible to reduced quality. Harvest these on the earlier side.
  • Create a plan using scouting notes along with yield estimates to harvest fields at greatest risk early so that corn can be dried down to 15 percent moisture, preventing yield losses. Yield Estimator is a free tool from Granular Insights to digitize yield checks.
  • Calibrate yield monitors as you harvest and make sure to recalibrate as conditions change.
  • Take notes on problem fields before and during harvest such as those hit by tar spot, which can lead to poor stalk integrity and lodging during high winds. Adjust field timing accordingly.
  • When to start varies; consider harvesting earlier. There’s a trend toward harvesting wetter corn, according to University of Minnesota Extension corn agronomist Jeff Coulter. He recommends a guideline of 24 to 25% grain moisture to begin harvest, noting today’s farmers are situated with logistics for handling corn and having it dried. Others recommend 20 to 25% moisture levels to begin harvest.

Photo - Corn harvest operation - green combine

WHERE TO START: When harvest arrives, determining timing is critical to maximize returns. Assessing each field – corn or soybeans – for optimum harvest timing makes a difference.


  • Harvest sooner than you think you should, at 15% to 16% moisture, rather than waiting for the optimum level of 13%. You can still make more money, compared to harvesting and hauling 11% beans to the elevator, even when typical shrink factors and drying charges are assessed. (Drying charges are hard to foresee, but this analysis assumes a 30% increase in drying charges this year.) Don’t wait for every leaf to drop; while you might hit the optimum 13% moisture in the first field, chances are good the others can overly dry and drop to 9% or 10% moisture levels.
  • Use a crop development model such as SoyWater from University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help predict soybean growth stages and earliest possible harvest dates of a given field based on planting date, maturity group and soil type.
  • Learn more on how early harvesting can cut yield loss and also help you manage risk and improve net income from this collection of extension educator articles, organized by date.
  • Be vigilant for yield robbers such as Green Stem Disorder (GSD), which can force you to cut ground speed and increase engine power, burning more fuel. Harvest delays can ramp up chances of shattering, lodging and seed decay, so don’t wait for the stems to dry down if pods are mature.

Contributors to this tip sheet are John Schoenhals, Pioneer field agronomist; Jeff Coulter, Extension corn agronomist, University of Minnesota; and Mike Staton, soybean educator, Michigan State University Extension. For more agronomy information, visit Pioneer.com.

This content produced by Farm Progress for Corteva Agriscience.