How Can I Estimate Corn Yield?

Erick Larson, State Extension Specialist - Grain Crops
By Erick Larson, State Extension Specialist - Grain Crops July 11, 2017 11:07

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There is a method you can estimate corn yield by thoroughly sampling random ears in a field. It will take some effort and knowledge to accurately represent your field or area, but it can give you a reasonable estimate and hopefully satisfy your desire regarding the upcoming harvest.

The first thing you need to do is to count the total number of ears in one thousandth of an acre.  The length of row to count depends upon your row width as noted below:

Row length which equals 1/1000 acre:

17’5″ in 30″ rows
13’9″ in 38″ rows
13’1″ in 40″ rows

The next step is to calculate the average number of kernels per ear.  You do this by counting the number of kernel rows around the ear, as well as the number of kernels in the length of row.  The key to obtaining accurate estimates of kernel number is to truly collect random samples and collect enough ears to generate a good estimate.  I highly suggest closing your eyes while grabbing ears, so you don’t bias your sample.  These values are multiplied to generate an estimate of number of kernels per acre and should be relatively accurate, if you do your part.

However, in order to calculate yield, you must also integrate kernel weight into the calculation. The problem with this method and other variants for estimating corn yield, is that you are not collecting any physical data which measures kernel weight, which continues to fill until physiological maturity. Therefore, most methods suggest using an average value to finish your calculation of the estimate. Thus, this method of yield estimation may get you in the ballpark, but leaves considerable opportunity for error which is not accounted for.

There are numerous factors that can influence kernel weight, with the most important likely being the overall stress level endured during late grain fill, and hybrid genetics.  Therefore, I suggest using your knowledge of the crop to characterize a reasonable value for kernel weight.  The value normally used for estimating kernel weight is 0.01116.  However, corn kernel weight can vary by 40% or more, so I believe you can produce a much better estimate by picking a value between 0.009 for stressed, dryland corn and 0.013 for a crop produced under optimal growing conditions. The night-time temperatures this season were very favorable or slightly below normal during grain filling stages, so I expect to see good kernel size and weight, if favorable conditions continue, so adjust your estimations accordingly.

The old saying “garbage in = garbage out” is certainly pertinent to this yield estimation procedure, but if you are willing to methodically collect representative data and apply your knowledge of crop conditions and hybrid characteristics, to assess kernel weight, you can produce a reasonable estimate of corn yield.

The formula for estimating corn yield is:

Yield (bu/a) = (# of ears in 1/1000 acre)(avg. # of kernel rows/ear)(avg. # of kernels/row)(value for seed wt.)


(34.5 ears in 1/1000 acre)(15.25 kernel rows/ear)(38.0 kernels/row)(0.012 value for seed wt.) = 240 bu/a.

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Erick Larson, State Extension Specialist - Grain Crops
By Erick Larson, State Extension Specialist - Grain Crops July 11, 2017 11:07
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  1. Charles farmer July 20, 11:30

    Think corn yield estimator is spot on but I have never seen an ear of corn with an odd number of rows as in your example. Always enjoy your articles very informative.

    Reply to this comment
    • Erick Larson, State Extension Specialist - Grain Crops Author July 20, 11:59

      Dear Charles,

      You likely won’t ever see an ear with an odd number of rows, because corn kernel rows develop as pairs as shown in the top photo.

      However, you must sample a lot more than one ear in order to obtain a reasonable yield estimate or any of the parameters needed to calculate it! Thus, the value in the yield estimate example noted above can be any number, including tenths, or even hundredths – although corn kernel row number typically ranges from 12-20. The bottom line is you need to sample a lot of ears to calculate a good estimate.

      Thanks for the question and hope your crop turns out well!

      Reply to this comment
  2. Landon waits July 25, 18:02

    When you go to the field and start pulling ears of corn and say there are 30 ears with 16 and 30 ears with 14 the average number will be an odd number.

    Reply to this comment
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