By Larry W. Dallas
Harvest is underway in Douglas County. Some of the grain elevators offered half-price drying on corn and that got the combines going. Most of the moistures I have heard are in the low to mid 20 percent range. We have picked two small fields that both averaged around 19 percent.
The weather we use says that at my house, I am 7 inches of rain over the average for this year. The yield on another field we have harvested was disappointing at best. The yield map generated by the combine shows a stark difference between the high ground and low areas of the field. This field has drainage tile installed in it. Maybe there was too much water on this field for the tile to cope with. Maybe this corn hybrid does not like wet feet. I want to get into other fields with this corn variety to see what the result is.
Even though many of the soybeans in the area were planted relatively early, very few are mature. Most are dropping leaves. Often, we have cut soybeans by the middle of September. We think that the cold weather early in the growing season may have set the soybeans back. We hope that by staying alive later, the yields will be better.
Harvesting wet corn has its costs. The grain elevators charge us to dry the corn to a safe moisture level. If we dry it on the farm, we have to buy propane and electricity. Leaving the corn to dry in the field has its risks. As the corn plants age, they have less strength to tolerate wind. If the corn plant falls over, or lodges, it may be hard to get the ear into the corn head.
In most years, it is not hard to get soybeans dry enough to harvest. The elevator wants them at 13 percent moisture. That moisture level can swing widely during the day. Any dew will have to dry off before we can begin to cut beans. On a hot sunny day, that moisture may be down to ten or eleven percent by evening. That water weight is lost income for the farmer. When we put soybeans in a bin, we can start at a little higher moisture and use aeration to even the moisture out in the bin.
I talk about weed control a lot, but it is an important factor in crop production. Good weed control is essential for good yields. Young corn and soybean plants don’t like competition. We want the sunlight, water, and nutrients all to go to the crop we are growing. That is the reason we spend time and money to keep fields as weed-free as possible.
Another benefit of a clean field is an easier harvest. Every farmer can recall grinding through a weedy field with the combine. It is time-consuming and frustrating. It is also hard on equipment. Grass tended to be a bigger problem in corn in the past. We had effective broadleaf weed killers early on, but grass control was long coming. Soybean fields were the opposite with broadleaf weeds harder to get a handle on.
There are problem weeds today. Nothing seems to kill morning glories very well. As the corn plants die it is easy to see morning glories in the outside rows of cornfields. A pigweed variant known as tall water hemp is adept at developing resistance to many of the herbicides. The cool temperatures early this year made it hard to kill everything it seemed to us. It is an ongoing battle.
I also talk a lot about safety on the roads during planting and harvest. Already this fall there has been a fatal accident near Morton, IL when a car hit a combine head-on, rolled into the ditch, and caught fire. When I was looking for information on this wreck, I found a picture of a crash with a SUV running under a large sprayer last spring. It must have been a fatality as well.
We don’t want to be on the road but must get from field to field. Our equipment is slow, large, and hard to maneuver. If a driver gets too close behind a combine, the combine operator can’t always even see the vehicle. Mirrors and lighting on new equipment are better than in the past, but it seems to me that most drivers ignore turn signals on tractors and combines.
Above all remember farm machinery is slow. 20 miles per hour is the top speed for most of it. When you are taking that shortcut around town and zipping along on a country road, you will close on a tractor or combine very quickly. The farmer probably can’t dodge you. Please be careful this fall.
Hurricane Ida that struck New Orleans has disrupted agriculture in several ways. The grain elevators that unload river barges and load ocean-going vessels haven’t had electricity to perform those tasks. Some river elevators in the Midwest quit buying grain for a time because they had nowhere to go with it. Barge traffic on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers was held up. Harvest has been underway for weeks in the south and that grain is moving to market ahead of ours.
Also without electricity was a large fertilizer production complex. They have told their customers that they will be unable to fill fall contracts until later. Farmers in the Midwest will begin fertilizing for the 2022 crop this fall. We need for that plant to restart and for the Mississippi to open back up for barge traffic so that fertilizer can move north. We already hear that fertilizer will be substantially more expensive. We don’t want to add a supply problem to the higher costs.
We can wait until spring to apply fertilizer. There are multiple strategies for giving the crop the nutrients it needs. Fall application locks the price in and makes less work for spring. Fertilizer application in the growing season puts the fertilizer on the ground closer to when the plant will use it. There is also a degree of flexibility in waiting until spring. A field with fall-applied nitrogen will go to corn because of the fertilizer already on the field. Waiting until spring to fertilize could let the farmer plant corn or soybeans depending on prices.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month. Please help us make harvest safe by watching out for our machinery on the roads this fall.