Heavy rainfall; wet, cloudy weather; and even some snowfall from Oct. 20-25 has worsened the already-dismal harvest concerns for 2009 in many areas of Minnesota. Very little progress was made on the 2009 corn and soybean harvest this past week in many areas of the state. Fortunately, the short-term weather forecast for last week of October sounds a bit more favorable to resume harvest in some areas. Harvest progress varies greatly throughout the region. In many areas of south-central Minnesota, soybean harvest is 65-70% complete, and some corn has been harvested. However, in many other portions of southern and western Minnesota, less than half of the soybeans and very little corn have been harvested at this point.

As we progress toward November, the harvest delays, especially for unharvested soybeans, become a much larger concern. The probability of higher field loss to the mature, unharvested soybeans increases greatly later in the harvest season. There is also some concern with unharvested corn in fields that are susceptible to stalk breakage, due to stalk diseases and corn root damage, especially with the likelihood of stronger winds in November. The wet field conditions are also delaying fall tillage, as well as fall manure and fertilizer applications in many areas. Most livestock producers empty their manure storage facilities annually in the fall, so the manure can be properly injected into the soil to capture full fertilizer value, and to reduce the potential for nutrient runoff.

In addition to the very wet field conditions, the weather patterns have not been conducive to natural drydown of the grain in the field. Many of the soybeans being harvested in the past couple of weeks have been at 16-19% moisture or higher. At that moisture level, soybeans will only be viable in storage for 30 days or less without supplemental drying. If producers plan to store soybeans into the winter and spring months, they should run the soybeans through a crop dryer to reduce the moisture content to 12-13% moisture for safe storage. Drying soybeans usually requires lower temperatures and more time than drying corn, in order to reduce heat damage to the soybeans. For more information on drying wet soybeans, go to the University of Minnesota Extension Service Web site.

The kernel moisture content of the corn has remained quite high in most areas in late October. Most corn hybrids were being harvested at 25-30% moisture last week in south-central and southwest Minnesota, with corn moisture levels still above 30% in other areas. Most producers have left the corn in the field as long as possible to maximize field drydown of the corn, in order to reduce the increased corn drying costs. However, further natural drydown of the corn in the field is likely to be quite slow after Nov. 1. Corn needs to be dried to about 15-16% moisture for safe on-farm storage until the following spring or summer, when it is normally hauled to market. This is likely to result in drying costs of 50-80¢/bu., or more for many producers in 2009, which will add to already high input costs for the 2009 corn crop.

Very Good Corn Yields

Many growers in south-central and southwest Minnesota who have harvested some corn have been reporting good to excellent corn yields in 2009, with many whole-field yields of 180 bu./acre or higher being reported. Corn yields are generally quite variable across the region, depending on planting date and summer rainfall frequency and amounts. Soybean yields in 2009 have been even more variable, depending on the summer rainfall and other growing season factors. Whole-field soybean yields have varied from about 35 to over 50 bu./acre in south-central Minnesota, with yields of 45-53 bu./acre quite common in the southern portion of the region, and yields of 38-46 bu./acre more common in central and northern portions of the region.

Corn and soybean yields have varied widely from farm to farm, field to field and even in the same field, depending on soil types, amount of rainfall and the locations of severe storms; not all producers are seeing the above-average corn and soybean yields in 2009. There have been many yield monitor, weigh-wagon and check-strip yield reports of 60-70 bu./acre for soybeans, and well above 225 bu./acre for corn in the region. In most instances, whole-field yields are well below the yield monitor or weigh-wagon yields, especially this year with the highly variable yield levels in the same field. Whole-field yields are based on the total bushels harvested or sold, divided by the number of acres planted last spring in a field or on a farm. Most yield reports promoted by seed companies are based yield plots and weigh-wagon yields, not on whole-field yields.

Farm Safety Concerns
Late fall is a key time for farm accidents, due to the shorter day length, and the extra stress of trying to finish up fall fieldwork before winter weather conditions arrive. The incidence of farm accidents usually increases as we get deeper into the season in a slow harvest year, such as 2009, due to more farmwork being done in darkness, wet and slippery conditions, and the hurry to complete harvest. Farm operators are encouraged to be patient, eat normally, get plenty of rest and know where family members are – especially children and senior citizens. A little extra caution can go a long way in preventing a tragic farm accident in the fall season.

The general public also needs to take extra caution around slow-moving farm machinery and trucks, as well as increased deer movement, when driving on state and county roads during the later-than-normal fall harvest season in farm country, especially early in the morning and in the late afternoon. Farm vehicles are larger and move much slower than cars, and the late-autumn sun is usually in a bad position during the times of heaviest traffic in the mornings and late afternoon on rural roads. The best advice to all drivers is to slow down, pay attention and stay off the cell phones while driving.

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.