What is One Ear of Corn Worth?

Originally posted on TheFarmersLife.com.

One ear of corn. It doesn’t seem like it holds much value. But even though I’m a corn farmer growing around 850 acres of corn, there is a lot of worth in one ear of corn. Let’s do some math.

We plant on average 32,000 seeds per acre taking the whole farm in account. 32,000 x 850 = 27,200,000 corn plants. Just to keep things simple let’s say all the corn plants emerged and survived to harvest. In some soils we plant more corn, and some areas we plant less. But one still might wonder why I care about one single ear among 27 million. More math.

In late summer a few weeks after pollination we can use a simple formula to get a rough idea of what kind yield we might expect at harvest. I tend to use the Yield Component Method. Because we can’t count tens of thousands of ears in an acre of corn in a practical manner we use this method to extrapolate an estimate of yield based on a much smaller area. 1/1000th of an acre to be exact.

With the yield component method I measure off 17.4 feet of a corn row. Then I count the number of ears within that distance. 17.4 feet equates to a thousandth of an acre in the 30″ row spacing we plant with. So if I count 32 ears in that area I simply multiply by 1,000 to figure the number of ears per acre. 32 ears is 32,000 over an acre.

I keep this J-hook and string in the center console of my truck. It just happens to be 17.4′ long.

Now I pick a random ear from the row to count the kernels. Either random or as the article above suggests, the fifth ear. The idea is not to pick the best or worst looking ear in the group. By counting the number of kernels around the ear (always an even number by the way!) multiplied by the number in a row along the length of an ear I get the number of kernels on the ear. Lets go with an nice ear of 16 around and 32 long. 512 kernels.

512 x 32 = 16,384

Now this new number derived from kernels multiplied by ears is divided by a factor based on what I think the general condition of the field may be. I usually start with 85. A lower factor can be used for better conditions. Higher factors are used for worse conditions. This will give a bushels per acre estimate. This practice should be repeated and average several times in the same field for a more representative figure.

16384 ÷ 85 = 192.75bu/a

192.75 bushels per acre. That’s a pretty good crop! At harvest the yield monitor (properly calibrated!) will tell us the real story. This method gives us a starting point to begin thinking about selling crop ahead of harvest or not. It isn’t super accurate. Last year my estimates were way low. I actually try to be a little conservative when estimating yield. I’d rather be pleased with a larger harvest than a smaller one than expected.

So how about that one single ear? If we can manage to get one more good ear per 1/1000th of an acre measured what does that mean to me?

512 x 33 = 16,896
16896 ÷ 85 = 198.78bu/a

A 6.03 bushel advantage from one more ear gained! The cash price for harvest delivery corn at my local elevator today is $4.25/bu. So in this scenario that single ear of corn today is worth another $25.63 per acre. Over 850 acres that’s an additional $21,785.50 over the whole corn crop. That’s no small chunk of change! One less ear for each 17.4 feet is about that same dollar amount is lost per acre. So you can see that a single ear of corn is very important to our operation. Also note that number of kernels per ear can make a big difference too. This is why planting season is so critical. We get one chance every year to get each little seed off to a good start. And a good start gives that seed a good chance to produce a plant that will provide use with one ear at harvest time.