How to Combine in Snow

First Snow Weather 103119
Harvesting with snow is wetter and trickier. Slow down and adjust combine settings to maximize grain gathering. ( Jerome Isaac )

Snow is blanketing much of the Midwest and Northern Plains, which adds more complexity to an already-challenging harvest. Leaving corn and, especially, soybeans standing in fields over winter puts you at greater risk of yield loss in-field.

“Harvesting corn or soybean after snow can be problematic,” says Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension agronomist. “Wetting and freezing causes split pods and seed shattering in soybeans, while crops with wet pods and husks can also be problematic because evaporative cooling may cause plant material to stick to the grain.”

When it’s all said and done, it means the grain won’t be cleaned properly. This problem is exacerbated when air temperatures are 27 to 35 degrees F.

Get crops out of fields as soon as you can to avoid more in-field loss. In addition, frozen and wet grain is hard on combines and can damage equipment if not managed properly.

Here are a few tips from Mark Hanna, with Iowa State University Department of Agriculture and Biosystem Engineering, on how to get crops out quickly and at best quality:

  • Use the lowest rotor or cylinder speed. This will help minimize seed coat damage. In addition, keep speed as low as possible to thresh grain but keep losses lower.
  • Adjust airflow settings. While cleaning airflow is normally set at a high level and then reduced to just below the point grain is blown out the rear of the cleaning show, Hanna suggests adjusting one setting at a time and then evaluating the change.
  • Harvest by dryness or maturity. If you have more than one planting date or maturity where there are differences in dry down, consider harvesting by those factors. However, any field with lodging should move up the priority list.
  • Keep machine-related losses low. Four soybeans or two kernels of corn per square foot equals one bu. per acre of loss. In good conditions you should aim for one bu. per acre or less of loss. Monitor losses out of the combine in all conditions, but especially challenging ones like this year.
  • Small soybeans need reduced cleaning fan speeds. This will help avoid blowing soybeans out of the combine. Also, if sieve openings are reduced for small soybeans, airflow should be reduced to compensate.

“Last night was the first time we got snowed out of harvesting beans,” says Brent Lowry, Searsboro, Iowa farmer. “[This is] probably going to be one of the later harvests we’ve ever had.”

While soybeans in Lowry’s area are well on their way to being harvested, corn is in much worse shape with little completed overall.

Check out more harvest tips here:

6 Issues to Weigh When Making Harvest Marketing Decisions

NOAA: Expect a Warmer Than Average Winter

Grain Quality Questions Linger

Early Winter Blast Sets its Sights on the Midwest

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