Three Steps To A More Successful Harvest

Harvest in west central Missouri ( Sonja Begemann )

If you’re still feeling shell-shocked from the planting season, harvest might be the last thing you want to think about. But taking some time to evaluate your harvest processes now will yield in a big way this fall, notes Ken Ferrie, Farm Journal Field Agronomist.

If bad weather, wet crops and equipment delays keep you from a timely harvest every season—and this season is looking similar—it’s time to adjust your practices to get more yield out of the field. Here are three steps Ferrie says to consider.

  1. Start by digging out your records from the past five years and look at how many days it took you to harvest each of your crops from start to finish.

“I mean take a hard look—not a touchy-feely kind of look,” Ferrie recommends. “I’m talking reality. If you have struggled the past five years and have an assortment of excuses why it took too long, it’s time to make changes.”

  1. Know the daily capacity of your harvest system. It can only be as fast as your weakest link.

“If you can harvest 160 acres a day but you can only handle 80 acres of grain a day, your capacity is 80 acres,” Ferrie explains. “Eighty acres a day might have been all right when you were farming 1,500 acres, meaning you had 20 days to get the crop harvested. But now, say you’re farming 4,000 acres. You might need 50 days to get harvest done, and that’s 50 days without weather delays or equipment breaking down.”

If you do need 50 days for harvest, you’re likely harvesting some 12% corn, if your practice is to let it dry down in the field. “With dry corn comes ear droppage and down corn, and that can turn a 50-day harvest into 70 days pretty quick,” Ferrie says. “All you get done then is chasing the next field of corn before it goes down.

“That’s one of the biggest time-related issues I see in fall,” he continues. “When farmers had fewer acres, they might have been able to let the corn dry down in the field and get serious about harvest when it reached 15% moisture. You can’t afford to do that with thousands of acres.”

  1. Consider lining up a non-harvest team that can tackle all your other fall jobs done, such as tillage, because you’re unlikely to have enough time left after harvest to do them or do them well.

Ferrie offers more practical agronomic insights to improve your harvest process in his Boots in the Field podcast, “Boost Profitability By Evaluating Harvest Procedures.” You can find it here: