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Producing Dried Corn for Fuel

Many of our growers are interested in growing corn as a rotational crop on their own farms, and drying and screening infrastructure is one of the biggest barriers to adoption.  A low cost method for small scale corn processing and drying would make this technology more affordable and more attractive to growers who wish to adopt fuel corn as a rotation crop, and better field drying will decrease the energy costs associated with commercial scale drying.

In the 2009 growing season we planted a half-acre of fuel corn at the University of Massachusetts Research Farm, in South Deerfield, that we used to experiment with low-tech/low-cost methods for drying. 

  • We successfully field dried the corn down to below the minimum required for burning (15.5% moisture). 
  • There were no significant differences between the dryness of the varieties tested.  

As part of this project, Masoud Hashemi conducted a series of variety trials to assess qualities that would reduce drying costs while maximizing yield.  If shorter season hybrids yield similar to full season hybrids then it provides the opportunity for growers to harvest the crop with lower natural moisture content which reduces drying costs.  To that end, he planted out experiments to assess grain yield performance and moisture content at the time of harvest at the UMass Research Farm. Number of corn hybrids evaluated each year were; 19 (2008), 15 (2009), 20 (2010), and 21 (2011). Hybrids were placed in three groups based on relative maturity (RM) provided by the seed companies; Group I, shorter season maturity group (85-94 days), group II mid maturity group (95-100 days), and group III, full season group (101-115 days). 

  • In general, no significant difference was found between the yields of the 3 maturity groups in most years. 
  • The moisture content at harvest varied between 17-25%  with the shorter- maturity hybrids having lower moisture content.
  • Yield improved linearly as population density increased from 28,000 plants/acre to 33,000.   This research indicates that high density plantings of shorter season varieties can provide competitive yields while greatly reducing drying costs.