Going into harvest with a plan in mind will maximize operational efficiency, reap higher yields and boost your bottom line. Use the following 10 questions to devise your harvest plan:
- What maturity was the seed? When you know the maturity, you can make a plan for when it will reach physiological maturity. Corn generally reaches black layer 55 days to 60 days after silking. At black layer, the grain is about 32% moisture. In soybeans, aim to harvest at 14% to 14.5% moisture to reduce drying costs and splitting.
- When did you plant the field? The planting date will tell you if the crop had stress early in the season and if it will be mature sooner than other fields. Early stress can cause lodging and other problems late in the season.
- When did the field pollinate? Was there insect, nutrient, heat or drought stress during pollination? The plant puts all of its energy into producing ears during pollination. If it needs more nutrients or is under stress, it will steal from the stalk to provide for the ear. This hollows the pith and makes a very weak stalk that can easily be blown over by strong wind or by being pushed by the combine.
- How does your rotation affect field health? Corn-on-corn fields face different pressures than a field rotated between soybeans and corn. There are fungi and diseases that never dissipate because the field never gets a break. It is important to be aware of any additional risks your crops might experience.
- How does rotation affect disease history? Watch for overwintering diseases. Sudden death syndrome and northern corn leaf blight are two diseases that can be detrimental on corn and soybeans. Both overwinter in soil and corn residue. Keep track of where you had these problems to see if you need to take action.
- What diseases or fungi are present in the soil? Soilborne issues such as anthracnose, southern rust, common rust, smut, gray leaf spot, brown spot and other stalk rots are present in soils. Keep an accurate history of your field and any areas with problems to track where you might need to spray fungicide or harvest early.
- Was the field under stress this year? What kind of stress? Did you have drought, too much water or nutrient leeching? Drought can bring out mold, such as aflatoxin, which can mean problems at the grain elevator and harvest. Too much water might encourage stalk rots and cause poor standability. Lacking nutrients means the plant will rob from the stalk to feed the ear, which makes it hollow and easy to knock over.
- What disease or rots are present now? Use pocket guides to determine what kind of diseases or rots you are seeing in the field now. This can tell you the severity of what you are dealing with and if it will have a big effect on standability the rest of the season. Leaf rots can also rob from the stalk, so it will be important to identify those while planning harvest.
- Are there ears or pods lying on the ground already? A weak ear shank can cause big losses as your money literally falls to the ground with each ear you lose. The same goes for soybeans—as they hit the ground less money goes into your pocket. Be vigilant as you check for ears and pods on the ground so you don’t harvest too late and lose it all.
- Does the stalk pass the push test? As you walk the field, push stalks to test their strength. If more than 10% to 15% don’t bounce back because they break, make that field a priority. That is a potential 10% to 15% yield loss and could indicate the rest of the stalks are also weaker and could fall with a strong wind.
Be thorough during your end of season scouting. You don’t want to lose yield—especially in a tight year when every bushel counts.