Managing Drought-Affected Corn

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery, Drought Resources September 30, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

Drought effected corn.

For purposes here, we will define “drought” as severity and timing of dry weather that results in reduction in corn yield to less than one-half the expected yield. If you have crop insurance that covers drought, then consult your insurance company before you harvest the crop. If there is a market for using such corn for silage, many people prefer to do that since silage value depends less on grain yield. It is important not to wait too long to cut such silage—moisture content should be around 65%, depending on the storage structure. Expect yields of around one ton (of 65% moisture silage) per foot of corn plant cut.

If silage is not an option, then grain should be harvested if the grain yield is high enough to pay for the harvest, drying, and storage costs. Corn grain quality in such cases depends on whether dry weather limited pollination and seed number, or whether the drought limited the amount of filling and thus the final kernel size. Some drought-affected corn grain may have a light test weight due to inadequate starch deposition. Kernels may also retain some sugars, which can darken as grain is artificially dried. Both low test weight and “heat-damaged” kernels can lower the price of corn grain. Because starch is deposited later than protein in the kernel, less starch may mean higher protein levels, and such grain might have more value as livestock feed than as cash grain.


If grain yield is inadequate to pay these costs and the insurance company concurs (some might even request this to prevent harvest), it might make sense to disc the crop to prevent weed growth and to start the breakdown of crop residue. If corn is planted the year following the drought, it usually benefits from having less crop residue to contend with, and unless the weather in the fall and spring is unusually wet, carryover nitrogen from the drought-affected crop should be available for the next crop. We estimate this by subtracting the yield (in bushels) of the drought-affected crop from the amount of N fertilizer (lb N) applied to that crop, and taking half of this difference as the amount of N available to the next crop.

Additional resource:

Managing Drought Stressed Corn 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.