Early November has provided a nice window of opportunity for farm operators to make some nice progress on the 2009 corn and soybean harvest. Above-normal temperatures and generally dry weather has been very favorable for to dry out wet fields, and to reduce the grain moisture content of the crop remaining in the field. Producers are hoping for a continuation of the favorable November weather pattern in order to complete the 2009 fall harvest and to finish fall tillage and fertilizer applications the ground freezes.

Based on the USDA weekly Crop Progress Report on Nov. 1, the corn and soybean harvest progress through October was on pace to be the slowest ever. The USDA report showed that only 51% of the soybeans were harvested nationwide and a mere 25% of the U.S. corn was harvested as of Nov. 1. The previous low harvest progress on comparable dates in the USDA reports was 53 % of the soybeans harvested on Nov. 4, 1984, and 39% of the corn harvested on Oct. 29, 1972. In 2008, the weekly USDA crop report on Nov. 2 reported 86% of the soybeans harvested and 55% of the corn harvested. The five-year average (2004-2008) for Nov. 1 harvest progress in the U.S. is 87% for soybeans and 71% for corn.

As of Nov. 9, less than 10% of the soybeans remained to be harvested in southern areas of south-central Minnesota, with higher amounts of soybeans remaining to be harvested in many other areas. Corn harvest progress is over 50% completed in south-central Minnesota, with less progress in some other areas. Producers have also been able to take advantage of the improved field conditions to do some fall tillage, apply livestock manure and to make fall fertilizer applications.

The dry weather pattern that has existed during the first portion of November has also allowed kernel moisture in corn to drop moderately from the very high corn moisture contents that existed throughout October. A significant amount of corn being harvested in recent days in south-central Minnesota was at 22-25% moisture, which is considerable improvement over the 26-30% that existed a couple of weeks ago. However, there is still a considerable amount of corn in the 26-30% range in many areas of Minnesota. Ideally corn should be at 15-16% moisture to be safely stored until next spring or summer. Corn drying costs in 2009 will likely be the highest in decades for many producers.

The latest issue facing farm operators is a shortage of propane gas to dry corn. The extremely wet corn this fall has lead to three to four times the normal usage of propane to dry down the corn for safe storage. As a result, many cooperatives and other propane suppliers have exhausted their normal supplies of propane gas for corn drying. In some areas, producers have been forced to shut down their corn harvesting operations during the favorable weather conditions due to the shortage of gas to dry the corn. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has extended the hours for the truck drivers transporting propane gas to suppliers in order to address the serious problem that exists. Producers that may be facing shortages of gas to dry their corn should contact their supplier o make sure they are on a list to receive additional dryer gas, as it becomes available.

Kernel Molds
Some corn kernel and ear molds are occurring in much of the Upper Midwest. Some of these common molds, such as Trichoderma (green mold) and Cladosporium (green or black blotched kernels) are usually not harmful, and do not normally cause the mycotoxins that result in aflatoxin problems in corn. However, given the type of summer and fall weather conditions we have had, it is likely that other corn ear and kernel molds may exist in some areas that could result in harmful mycotoxins leading to aflatoxin problems in the harvested corn. Aflatoxin mold growth is most prevalent in years when a period of drought is followed by a period of high humidity – such as 2009. Aflatoxin can also show up after the crop has been placed in storage. The presence of aflatoxin in corn could lead to rejections or price reductions by grain elevators or grain processors, and potential problems with feeding the corn to livestock.

If producers suspect that harmful ear and kernel molds may be present in corn that is still in the field, which could result in alfatoxin problems, they should contact their crop insurance agent before the corn is placed in storage to make sure that they have crop insurance coverage. Crop insurance coverage generally ends once the crop has been harvested, including the harvest extension that was detailed earlier. A crop insurance adjuster will take samples of the corn suspected to have aflatoxin, and will then have those samples tested for aflatoxin at a USDA approved testing laboratory. There are four possible aflatoxin test results: no discounts or damage, mild discounts, severe discounts or ordered destruction. The crop insurance adjuster will then determine an adjustment factor to use for adjusting crop losses and determining potential crop insurance indemnity payments.

Producers should contact their crop insurance agent to find out more details of crop insurance coverage when corn ear and kernel molds are present, which could potentially result in the development of aflatoxin in the harvested corn. Producers with questions on the various corn ear and kernel molds should contact their local crop consultant or agronomist for further details. Further information is also available at University of Minnesota Late Fall Harvest or on the Iowa State University Crop News.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.