Minnesota Farmer

What’s the rush
October 19, 2011, 9:53 pm
Filed under: Corn, Farm, harvest, Minnesota, Soybeans, time, weather, wind | Tags: , , , , , , ,

When harvest time comes, farm folks seem to be in such a rush, why is that?  We walk a fine line at harvest time in many parts of agriculture.  Our crop is not ready, and then it is too late.  The time between is sometimes very short.

The main crops in my part of Minnesota are dent corn and soybeans.  Both are row crops that in some ways complement each other, and usually do not have to be either planted or harvested on the same day.  Both however can go from not ready to too late quite fast.

Harvesting soybeans

Soybeans, because they grow within a thin shelled pod are affected by weather the most.  Once the pod dries it can drop the bean out of the pod at the least provocation.  We try to harvest soybeans at 16% moisture or less.  The problem is that they can be 16% in the morning and 11% by nightfall.  This sharp drop in moisture level means that you may have to wait for the morning dew to dry off of them before you can start, and then risk an unacceptable amount of shatter loss by sundown.

When soybeans are harvested the whole plant is cut off and sent through the combine.  Dry beans can drop out of the pod when the plant is shaken by the cutting process or just the tap of the reel that make sure they do not fall the wrong way.  I get used to seeing those buff colored seeds sitting behind the cutter bar not moving into the machine.  As the day progresses you can hear the snap as soybeans that are shaken out hit the windshield of the combine.  There can be beans flying everywhere when the pods get really dry.  The beans that do not make it into the machine are considered “harvest loss” and we try to keep their number to a minimum.  A hailstorm at harvest time can drop the entire crop on the ground.

Although we try to choose varieties of beans the are easier to harvest, we do not want them to fall off of the plant too easily.  It is just a fact of life, some beans will be lost.  Certain machine changes keep the loss to a minimum, but some beans always escape.  You could also harvest soybeans at a higher moisture percentage if you harvested them earlier and have less shatter loss, but then you have to mechanically dry them.  By drying them with heat you risk losing some of their value.  The harvest changes have to be economically acceptable.

Harvesting corn

Corn is easier to harvest at a higher moisture.  The value saved when harvesting corn at 20% moisture will more than pay for the fuel and machinery to dry it for storage.  Some years we must harvest corn at an even higher moisture content, leaving corn out all winter is too great of a risk.

The chance of header loss is less for corn than for soybeans, it has to do with the way the crop is harvested.  The whole corn plant never enters the combine, only the ear.  With corn, the stalk is pulled down sharply until the ear hits the stripper plates where the ear snaps off and goes into the combine.  At wetter harvest moistures, the ear is usually still covered by the husk, which helps to keep kernels trapped until they get into the machine, the kernels are also more tightly held to the cob.  At dryer harvest moistures the husk rarely stays on the ear.  When dry corn hits the stripper plates, kernels of corn can go flying everywhere, as in soybeans, some go the wrong direction.

This year the corn also dried down too fast.  By the time we got to the corn our moisture levels were below 15%.  At that moisture kernels pop off of the cob when the harvest machinery takes it in.  There are also a few ears that drop off, and some stalks that have fallen over that cannot be picked up.  A strong wind can both knock down stalks and shake ears of corn off of the stalk.

Dryer corn does however separate from the cob inside the combine easier.  This means we can harvest faster with less damage to the kernels of corn.  Wetter corn will grind inside the combine, dryer corn will crack.  It all becomes a trade off.  You trade one cost for another.  Most farmers around here prefer to harvest corn a bit wetter than we did this year.

Avoiding harvest loss is the reason for the fall rush.  Farmers are trying to get the maximum amount of crop out of the field in the least amount of time.  Buying bigger machinery would help speed the process, but add to the cost of harvest.  The balance point between getting the crop out fast, and not having too much money invested in harvest machinery must be found.  Most farmers err on the side of too big machinery.

This years ideal harvest weather with no rain meant a speedy harvest.  A wet year, or an early snow storm, can change all of that.  The rush to get the crop into protective storage means we balance many factors.  We cannot control time or weather, so we do the best we can to guarantee the swift completion of harvest with the least harvest loss and shatter possible.



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