Consider harvesting soybeans earlier to manage risk and improve net income

Harvesting soybeans at 14 to 16% moisture reduces potential for harvest losses and soil compaction and increases income compared to harvesting overly dry soybeans.

Deep and pervasive harvest ruts
Deep and pervasive harvest ruts from 2019. Photo by Mike Staton, MSU Extension.

Soybean producers often wait to begin harvesting until the moisture level of the beans in the field has dropped to or below 13%. While these first fields may be harvested at the optimum conditions and moisture level to maximize value per bushel, the plants in the remaining fields will probably become too dry, increasing harvest losses and lost pay bushels or weight, resulting in lost income.

The main reason producers delay soybean harvest is to avoid paying moisture discounts/drying charges. Table 1 shows the net value per acre and per bushel for soybeans delivered at various moisture levels. Even when typical moisture shrink factors and discounts are applied, it is more profitable to harvest soybeans at 15% moisture than to harvest them at 11% moisture, and harvesting at 14% is more profitable than harvesting at 12%.

Table 1. Net value per acre for a 60-bushel-per-acre soybean yield harvested and delivered at 13% versus harvesting and delivering at other moisture levels (generated by Roger Betz, MSU Extension).

Harvest moisture (%)

Wet bushels harvested (bu/ac)

Moisture shrink (%)

Pay bushels at 13% (bu/ac)

Drying charge ($/bu)

Net value per acre ($/ac)

Net value per bushel ($/bu)

Loss versus harvesting at 13% ($/bu)

18

63.66

7.0

59.20

0.25

$487.32

$8.12

-$0.38

17

62.89

5.6

59.37

0.20

$492.05

$8.20

-$0.30

16

62.14

4.2

59.53

0.15

$496.69

$8.28

-$0.22

15

61.41

2.8

59.69

0.10

$501.23

$8.35

-$0.15

14

60.70

1.4

59.85

0.05

$505.69

$8.43

-$0.07

13

60.00

0

60.00

0

$510.00

$8.50

$0.00

12

59.32

0

59.32

0

$504.22

$8.40

-$0.10

11

58.65

0

58.65

0

$498.53

$8.31

-$0.19

10

58.00

0

58.00

0

$493.00

$8.22

-$0.28

9

57.36

0

57.36

0

$487.56

$8.13

-$0.37

8

56.74

0

56.74

0

$482.29

$8.04

-$0.46

*Dry bushels were calculated using a shrink factor of 1.4% per wet bushel for each 1% above 13%.
** Pay bushel loss was calculated based on the same dry matter when moisture was below 13%.
*** Market price is $8.50 per bushel.
**** Moisture discount/drying charge of $0.05 for each 1% above 13%, based on wet bushels, was used.              

The values reported in the table don’t consider any of the other risks associated with delaying soybean harvest, such as increasing the potential for harvest losses, soil compaction, combine ruts (see photo) or delayed wheat planting. Shatter losses due to brittle pods increase as moisture levels drop below 11%. They also increase whenever soybeans dry to 13% and then undergo repeated wetting and drying cycles.

Due to extremely wet fall weather, good harvest conditions have been rare and short-lived in recent years. This is another strong argument for harvesting some your soybean fields at 14-16% moisture when weather and soil conditions are conducive. Every acre harvested under good weather and soil conditions is one less acre that may have to be harvested under poor conditions.

Wheat producers should be especially motivated to harvest soybeans early as wheat yields have been shown to decrease by 0.6 bushels per acre for each day planting is delayed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20. The higher wheat yields realized from early planting will more than compensate for the small level of lost income realized by harvesting soybeans at 14-16% moisture.

Consider harvesting some of your soybean fields at 14-16% moisture to manage harvest risk and improve farm income.

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