Test weight in small grains

Your management decisions can influence grain test weight at harvest.

Test weight in small grains including wheat, oats and barley is an important component of crop quality and value. The test weight of a representative sample of your crop will give an indication of how it compares to the industry standard. A lower test weight equals lower value. Standard or higher test weights generally bring the best price and provide the best quality when fed to livestock on-farm.

Here are standard bushel weights (test weights), standard grain moisture contents and pounds per cubic foot (at standard test weight) for selected small grain crops in Michigan.

Standard bushel weight

Standard grain moisture content

Lbs per cubic foot (at standard test wt and moisture)

















You’ll be informed of your grain’s test weight at the elevator, but it doesn’t hurt to determine it for yourself. Knowing grain moisture can be helpful in avoiding storage problems. Many grain moisture meters are available. Be sure to follow instructions carefully and collect a good, representative sample for the most accurate results.

Several factors influence the test weight of small grains, including drought, nutrient deficiencies, temperature extremes, plant lodging, insect damage and adverse weather events like frost and hail. There are also genetic differences among varieties. These factors influence the plant during the period of grain fill, when stress is most likely to reduce test weight.

What you can do to achieve the best test weight

Adequate fertility. When available nitrogen is deficient, test weight will be lower. However, once nitrogen requirements are met, additional nitrogen has the potential to result in reduced test weight. Managing nitrogen carefully to meet, but not exceed yield goals maximizes the likelihood of a good test weight. Crop rotation and manure or other soil amendments, as well as commercial fertilizers, should be considered when estimating available nitrogen.

Insect pest management. Insects can damage foliage and stem tissue. Keep an eye out for armyworm infestations, excessive numbers of grasshoppers and others. When foliage or stems are eaten or damaged during grain fill, test weight will be reduced. Consider buying an armyworm trap to monitor the adult moths. For an investment of less than $10 in a re-usable trap and an annual purchase of pheromone baits for $5 or so, you’re in business.

Variety selection. Varieties showing superior test weight results in trials may be a good choice. However, other factors including yield and disease resistance are equally important. If you’ve had disappointing test weights with one variety, consider trying another with superior levels.

Avoid plant lodging. Avoid development of an overly dense canopy caused by excessive nitrogen rates early in plant development. Split application of nitrogen can help with this. Other causes of lodging include poor standability varieties, uneven fertilizer spreading equipment, stem-based diseases and poor plant anchorage resulting from poor soil structure.

For more information on test weight, crop weights and measurements:

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