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A Smooth Harvest

September 9, 2010
By: Darrell Smith, Farm Journal Conservation and Machinery Editor

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If a short crop has a long tail, so does a wet one. Farmers fought the effects of this past fall’s nightmare harvest conditions well into spring, as they struggled to keep combine-damaged, high-moisture corn from going out of condition in the bin.

“We are still suffering the consequences of a wet harvest,” says Jack Trainor of Trainor Grain in Forrest, Ill. “Grain that entered the bin in poor condition came out the same way.”


Fortunately, thanks to balmy planting weather, the 2010 harvest is shaping up to be an early one. But memories of fall 2009 may tempt you to jump-start harvest to make sure you don’t get blindsided by the weather.


Experts offer this advice: First, if the forecast calls for normal fall weather don’t let memories of this past fall’s muddy harvest push you into rushing this year’s harvest; the risk of low-quality grain is just too great. Second, this year and every year, plan ahead so things run smoothly once you begin.

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Here are 10 tips to help make your harvest season smooth and profitable.

1. Put fall 2009 behind you. “Every year is different,” says Mark Baer of Sun Ag Supply in Tremont, Ill. “You can’t assume this harvest season will be like the last one.”

“This past year probably was an anomaly,” agrees Steve Burrow of Soy Capital Ag Services, a farm management firm in Peoria, Ill. “Base each harvest on experience and realistic forecasts.”

2. Let Mother Nature help. “If weather permits, let corn dry in the field as much as possible,” Trainor says. “Harvesting wet corn puts in cracks that don’t show up until drying. Contrary to popular belief, elevators don’t make money drying wet corn. In fact, we don’t like to receive it. It causes us as many problems as it does farmers, maybe even more because we dry at higher heat, which makes any damage show up more.”

“If you’re drying corn on-farm, let it dry in the field until it reaches 25% moisture,” Burrow advises. “If you’re going to the elevator, try to wait until it dries to 20% to 22%.”

Grain moisture above 20% invites quality loss when you dry it, Trainor says. Besides

increasing drying cost, the grain will be more difficult to maintain in the bin.

3. Evaluate the crop. “We scout our fields every week, so we know what’s out there,” says Fletcher, Ohio, farmer Jim Fiebiger. “Last year, we knew we had a big, heavy, wet crop that we couldn’t store. We started harvesting when corn was 25% moisture and sold that corn to an early market.


“This year, it’s different,” Fiebiger continues. “We’re borderline dry, and our area may have a short crop. In that case, we’ll harvest as we usually do, starting at 22% or 23% moisture.”

4. Check stalk quality. While you’re scouting, give stalks the push test. Then plan which fields to harvest first.


“Stalk quality is worse than last year,” Burrow says. “The problem was accentuated by nitrogen losses caused by heavy rains. Add anthracnose and common and Southern rust on top of that, and it’s bad for standability.”

5. Put machines and people in place. The first step to a timely harvest, says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie, is calculating how many days you need to get the work accomplished. Allow for tillage and weather delays.

If your combine isn’t large enough to harvest in a timely fashion, add a second machine or hire more people to run longer shifts. “If you run longer shifts, you will need an elevator that’s open late or an employee at your bin site,” Ferrie notes.

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FEATURED IN: Farm Journal - September 2010
RELATED TOPICS: Corn Navigator

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