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Agronomy Talk: Harvesting Down Corn

Published on Thursday, October 3, 2019


Harvesting downed corn is one of the worst jobs on the farm. Year in and year out, there are many abiotic stresses or plant pathogens that will affect standability and ease of harvesting a corn crop. One of the most prevalent issues causing decreased standability of corn is the presence of crown rot and stalk rots. These diseases take advantage of compromised stalk tissue, and degrading it below the ear causing lodging and stalk breakage. There are, however, ways to improve the process of harvesting downed corn that can make it much smoother.


Timing: Start harvesting downed corn early. Although the grain may be wetter than ideal, greener plants will feed into the head easier than dry stalks. As the season progresses, stalk rots and degradation will progress, causing more potential acres to become lodged or broken.

Speed: Slow your ground speed. In most instances, a ground speed between 2 to 3 mph will work best for down or lodged corn.

Adjustments: Adjust your gathering chains for both speed and cleat spacing.

  • Chain speed often needs to be reduced to match the ground speed of the combine to gently pull the plant into the head. In fields with severe stalk rot or lodging, high head speeds will tear through the stalk before it has a chance to gather into the head, resulting in more loss.
  • Slow the fan speeds down to minimize blowing kernels out the back. You should also slow your rotor speed to maintain grain quality since less material will be coming into the machine compared to when harvesting at 5 mph.
  • Adjusting the spacing of the cleats to be parallel on each side as opposed to staggered will help grasp the plants and feed them into the head better. Attachments on gathering chains, like blocks or brushes, may offer some benefit when harvesting downed corn as well. In severe cases, turning the chains around can speed harvest and reduce loss.
  • Keep the head low. Run the snouts as close to the ground as possible without causing damage. Low snouts allows the corn to work into the head at an upward angle, meaning more ears make it into the tray. Consider investing in header height control if you have an older combine.
  • Adjusting the angle of the feeder house will also ease your harvest efforts by flattening out the head. Heads should be run as flat as possible without raising the snout tips. Additional weight can also be added to the snout to help them stay below the canopy.
  • Open up the stripper plates. Wider plates will let plants flow in naturally with less obstruction.

Direction: Start harvesting fields with down corn on the downwind side of the field. If the corn is leaning to the east, harvest heading west. Ease of harvest may also improve by taking one less row than the capacity of the head (7 rows on an 8-row head).


  • Remove “tall corn” attachments or ear savers on the outside rows of the head. These attachments can snap lodged corn and may obstruct feeding into the head.
  • Ditch the ear savers. They are often counterproductive to capturing corn into the head.
  • Consider adding an attachment to help feed the corn into the head. Roll-a-corn or similar products to the outside rows to bring corn into the head. Take special care to make sure corn is not wrapping around these attachments. Corn reels also make harvesting in down corn more tolerable, especially when the plant becomes drier. Manufacturers offer many different styles of reels, all doing the same task, but the style of reel that works best will depend on personal preference.
  • Row Feelers attach to the snout and use pressure to auto steer the combine, particularly useful when corn is lodged across the row.



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Jon Skinner

Jon Skinner

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