Plan Harvest to Deliver Soybeans at the Optimum Moisture

Plan Harvest to Deliver Soybeans at the Optimum Moisture

REVISED: September 1, 2020 (originally published September 14, 2017)

When is getting docked by your grain elevator for selling soybeans over 13% moisture not a bad thing?

When it means your net income actually improves over what it would have been if you'd sold your soybeans at a lower moisture level, for example 9%, to avoid a dockage.

Most soybeans are harvested and delivered directly to an elevator instead of being placed in on- farm storage. Soybeans delivered below or above 13% moisture—the elevator standard—lose potential profit.

At greater than 13% moisture, there is a moisture dock on the scale ticket for delivering wet beans, resulting in a lower price per bushel. And with less than 13% moisture, profit is lost because there are fewer “bushels” to sell rather than a dockage on the ticket (Table 1). There are fewer bushels because the load weight is divided by 60 pounds per bushel (assuming 13% moisture) rather than by the actual pounds per bushel for the moisture content of the beans at the time of delivery.

What difference does harvesting and selling soybeans at 8% or 9% compared to 13% moisture mean to your bottom line?

If you sell soybeans at 8% moisture, you're losing about 5.43% of your yield; at 9% moisture, it's 4.4%; at 10% moisture, 3.3%; at 11% moisture, 2.25%; and at 12% moisture, it's 1.14% yield loss. That does not take into account additional risk for shatter losses during harvest. For a field that's yielding 75 bu/ac, harvesting it at 9% results in selling 3.3 fewer bushels per acre based on weight because you are not selling the water that you are entitled to sell if the beans were at 13% moisture. With soybeans priced at $9/bushel, that's a loss of about $30 per acre.

A study of farmer practices was conducted in Hamilton and York counties by Nebraska Extension. Information from 115 truckloads of soybean that were harvested and being delivered to the elevators (Figure 1). Of those sampled, 5 loads were less than 8.9% moisture; 14 loads were 9-9.9%; 28 loads were 10-10.9%; 27 loads were 11-11.9%; 29 loads were 12-12.9%; 9 loads were 13-13.9% and only 3 loads were 14-14.9% moisture.

For Example

To see how this might work, let's look at a case in Eastern Nebraska where a grower is selling soybeans yielding 75 bu/ac. Based on information from a local elevators, growers are docked for soybeans sold at over 13% moisture at the following rates:

13.1% to 13.5% moisture — 1.5% price dock
13.6% to 14% moisture — 3% price dock
14.1% to 14.5% moisture — 4.5% price dock
14.6% to 15% moisture — 6% price dock

Example 1.  If the grower was to sell beans at 13.8% moisture, he/she would be docked 3% of the selling price of $8.75/bu, reducing the actual price to $8.49 per bushel. Total income per acre would be:

75 bu/ac yield x $8.49/bu = $636.75 per acre gross

Example 2.  If the soybeans were harvested at 9% moisture, there would be 3.3 fewer bushels per acre to sell (4.4% of 75 bu/ac yield due to water loss; see Table 1):

75 bu/ac - 3.3 bu/ac =71.7 bu/ac yield x $8.75 = $627.38 per acre gross

In this example it would be better to take a dockage for selling beans at 13.8% moisture than sell them at 9%. The difference is a positive gain of $9.37 per acre or almost $1265 on a 135 acre field. In practice the grower would likely see an even greater benefit from selling beans at 13.8% moisture due to reduced shatter loss from 9% soybeans.

Do you have difficulty harvesting soybeans close to 13% moisture? If so, consider the tips for your combine in this CW article.

Table 1. Potential loss from delivering soybeans at less than 13% moisture.
Moisture Level

Yield Reduction

8% 5.4%
9% 4.4%
10% 3.3%
11% 2.25%
12% 1.14%
Chart showing results of local study of soybean moisture at harvest
Figure 1. In a study of soybeans being delivered to elevators in two counties in south central Nebraska, only 8% were delivered at the target level of 13% moisture while 90% were delivered below 13% moisture and 2% were delivered over 13% moisture. While not all soybeans can be delivered at 13% moisture, that should be the goal.

In this Market Journal segment Extension Educator Nathan Mueller discusses aspects of soybean harvest, noting that selecting soybean seed to provide a range of maturities can help provide more options to achieve optimum moisture levels across the harvest season.

Final Thoughts

We realize harvesting at 13% moisture is perhaps a combination of art and luck depending on environmental conditions. The purpose of this article is to help readers understand losses that can occur when selling soybeans too dry. Rapid dry-down and difficulty harvesting green stems and pods are the most common reasons for harvesting at lower than standard moisture. The following practices can help producers maintain quality and expected moisture content.

  • Adjust harvest practices. When harvesting tough or green stems, make combine adjustments and operate at slower speeds. Consider these equipment adjustment tips for your combine.
  • Begin harvesting at 14 percent moisture. Try harvesting when some of the leaves are still dry on the plant; the beans may be drier than you think. Soybeans are fully mature and have stopped accumulating dry matter when 95 percent of the pods are at their mature tan color.
  • Plan planting dates and variety selection to spread out plant maturity and harvest. Soybean maturity studies are finding around 1 day delay in harvest for every 0.1 difference in maturity group.
  • Avoid harvest losses from shattering. Four to five beans on the ground per square foot can add up to one bushel per acre loss. Harvest at a slow pace and make adjustments to the combine to match conditions several times a day as conditions change.

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