October left with a blast. High winds across Kentucky blew in odd directions and over some corn fields. We knew this was going to be a risk this fall. The heavy ears, shallow roots and slow drydown all created a risk for downed corn. The high winds also brought rains, meaning that harvest will not resume for several days. What can we do now?
We can start by inspecting fields. Identify the fields where corn is down and fields where corn is standing. If corn is standing, check stalk strength with the grab test. (Grab the corn stalks at shoulder height, pull or push about 18 inches off center and release. If the corn stalks remain upright, stalk strength is good. If not, stalk strength is weaker.) Identify the grain moisture in all fields.
Knowing the percent of corn that is down and the grain moisture in each fields will help you decide which fields are ready to harvest and which fields need more time to dry down. Once these are known, you are left with the challenge of deciding when to harvest the downed corn and upright corn.
Downed corn is at greater risk for not drying and for having other kernel problems. Downed corn may take three or four times longer to harvest than a field of upright corn. Harvest losses in downed corn may be 10 to 15% even when care is taken to harvest. Upright corn is faster and easier to harvest and has better potential for good seed quality. Upright corn, depending on stalk strength, is also at risk of becoming downed corn.
If the corn is all laying down in the same direction, some combines work best when harvesting from the opposite direction (i.e. harvesting with the tassel pointing at the cab). This means that harvest one direction, circle back to the other end of the field and harvest in the same direction again. Even if you could harvest at normal speed, harvest time is doubled.
If corn is laying in all directions, then reels may be an option. There are several reals on the market. Reels that have the ability to be adjusted from the cab might be more helpful, but matching the correct reel to your combine requires some conversations with the equipment manufacturers and other producers.
Finally, remember to be patient. Corn harvest is the most exciting time when corn is good. Corn harvest is the most frustrating time when something goes wrong. Downed corn delays harvest. But, harvesting as many of the downed ears as possible requires slow going and patience.