Start Harvest Management Now

Scout fields to prioritize which ones are most vulnerable. ( Darrell Smith )

While harvest is still several weeks away, now is the time to scout fields, identify problems and craft your harvest plan. Walk corn and soybean fields to check for common standability issues or grain quality issues that might affect your harvest timing, grain marketing and storage plan.

“August to mid-September is going to give us a pretty good idea of how grain fill is going to be and how the dry conditions in some areas and wetter conditions in others are going to affect this crop,” explains Mark Licht, Iowa State University Extension agronomist.


Prioritize Cornfields For Harvest

University experts suggest looking at these factors in cornfields:

  • Yield. Use estimates to help prioritize high-performing fields to maximize returns.
  • Kernel depth and weight. Drought-stressed areas could feature lower test weights. This makes harvest and storage more challenging and could lead to penalties at the elevator.
  • Earworm damage. This kind of crop injury can affect the crop’s storage ability and open it up to more diseases because it’s already weak. In addition, earworms eat precious kernels, which impacts yield.
  • Ear mold. Examine ears and devise a plan to address mycotoxins and other possible docks at the elevator. Consider how this affects storage and if these fields need to be harvested earlier to slow disease spread.
  • Stalk quality. Stalk rots are opportunistic, so anything that causes stress amplifies the opportunity for stalk rot, explains Andrew Friskop, North Dakota State University Extension cereal crop plant pathologist. When performing pinch/push tests to see if corn is likely to lodge, prioritize fields with over 20% that fall.

Assess Soybeans

At this point in the season, your top goal is to understand where soybeans are at in their life cycle.

“Once they reach maturity it’s about seven to 10 days later you could be harvesting. Pay attention to that in soybeans,” Licht says.

Depending on when soybeans were planted and their maturity, you could need to keep an eye out for foliar diseases and insect pressure. Keep track of thresholds and be ready to treat when economically beneficial. Some diseases, such as white mold, have to be caught early or fungicide provides no benefit.

“If you get into a situation where you need to choose between harvesting a corn field or a soybean field, generally speaking, corn has better standability,” Licht points out. “However, you have to evaluate them by field and profitability. Maybe corn will make you more money, so it might make more sense to start there to save what you can.”


10 Questions to Answer Before Harvesting

To increase harvest efficiency and minimize in-field losses, identify the status, strengths and weaknesses of your fields. Consider these questions from university experts.

  • What maturity was the seed? Use this to plan for physiological maturity — corn typically reaches black layer 55 to 60 days after pollination.
  • When did you plant the field? Track weather conditions and other factors to see if stress could make the field mature sooner, or potentially have lodging issues that would require faster harvest.
  • When was pollination? What happened during pollination? Could stressors have weakened stalk quality? If pollination was poor, this could be a field to push to the bottom because of low yields.
  • How does crop rotation affect field health? Corn-on-corn has different insect and disease pressure than corn-on-soybeans. How does this put fields at greater risk of yield loss?
  • What is the field’s disease history? Overwintering diseases should be tracked and scouted to help prioritize standability or grain quality issues early to prevent lost returns.
  • Was the field stressed this year? How does it compare to other fields and how does that affect the strength of the crop’s standability?
  • What diseases or rots are active now? Use this information to gauge which fields need priority to prevent excessive spread of disease that affects your bottom line.
  • Are ears or pods already falling? If so, your yield and profit is falling, too. Think about how you’ll have to harvest this field to minimize further loss and consider moving it up on the priority list.
  • Does the stalk pass the push or pinch test? If more than 10% to 15% of stalks don’t bounce back or break, make that a priority. Each falling stock represents yield loss if a strong wind knocks down the crop.
  • What field and crop has the greatest profitability? Ultimately, make sure profit drives decisions. If a corn field had poor pollination and has standability issues, but won’t yield well, it might make sense to harvest the field with stronger yield potential first to salvage more bushels.

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