Reeling in Lost Bushels

November 28, 2017 04:00 PM
To recover 200 acres flattened by an overnight storm, Scott Flowers ordered a corn reel to harvest the unbroken but uprooted stalks.

Scott Flowers pulled off the highway and eased onto a winding county road, anxious to check his crops on an eerily quiet Friday morning. Truck wheels crunched gravel as he rolled alongside one field after another. Cotton; check. Soybeans; check. Peanuts; check. Corn? More than 200 acres of the best corn on his entire farm had vanished overnight.

Flattened by 6" of rain and 50 mph straight-line winds, remnants of Hurricane Harvey, the corn was unbroken but uprooted. Pressed by the time constraints of harvest and with yield on the ground, Flowers weighed his options and ordered a corn reel, intent on recovering bushels. However, the seasoned Mattson, Miss., producer knew he was about to walk a farming tightrope: Salvaging yield with a corn reel comes with a mix of variables.

The Hawkin corn reel features paddles positioned to create narrow clearance and help prevent corn from escaping over the outside dividers. The reel also handles flow evenly and keeps an operator in the cab. After 10 days in transit, four days of assembly and a missing part, Flowers was able to roll into the damaged corn field.

“With a reel, you come behind and go with the flow at 2 mph or 3 mph,” says Joe Small, of Omega Plantation in Clarksdale, Miss. “The reel clears the clutter off the header.”

Flowers estimates the corn reel quadrupled the normal combining time of standing corn. Along with time spent waiting to get the reel in the field, he was forced to hire outside cutters to harvest several soybean fields. “I had to pay to have 500 acres of soybeans cut, although I’d normally have more than enough combines. That’s the way things go sometimes at harvest when a crop is ready to go.”

How did Flowers fare when the bushels came out of the field? After using the corn reel, he still managed to match his farm average on the downed 200 acres: 215 bu. per acre. Essentially, he estimates a 50-bu. loss per acre from the hurricane effect.

“I don’t know if the reel paid for itself when I think about time lost and considering I paid to have some of my beans cut. The lost time and lost bushels were tough,” Flowers explains.

Relying on 50 years of combining experience, Small says loss from downed corn is dependent on rain, wind, variety, stalk breakage point, foliage and how the corn is positioned on the ground. “In my experience, when you run a corn reel through a damaged field, you expect to regain just below 50% to upward of 85% of yield,” he notes.

“I’d tell anyone with downed corn to know a loss is coming. Factor in all the conditions and estimate the overall loss, and then you can figure out if it’s time to bring in a corn reel,” Small advises. “You might not need the reel for 10 years, but you also might need it the very next season.”

“For us, the corn reel was an investment and a little bit of insurance,” Flowers says. “If we get in this situation again, we’ll hook up to the reel and be ready to go.”

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