Six Late Harvest Tips: Don’t Leave Yourself Out in the Cold

by Charles Courtney, Field Research Manager, Climate LLC

November 22, 2019


One of the big concerns this harvest has been the moisture and rain that delayed the planting of corn and soy. Now, as we get into colder and colder temperatures and the stretches of intense sunlight begin to dwindle, some farmers might wonder how they should change their approach to the season.

I’m a research lead for Climate LLC at one of its research farms in South Dakota, and my team is very familiar with moisture challenges and cold conditions at harvest. There are even times when we’ve had to bust through ice to get to the crop! As a native Texan, when I arrived in South Dakota years ago, I had to learn the ways of farming in this region. Here are some tips I’ve gathered from my experience as well as that of other experienced farmers that helped me get up to speed. 

1. Beans Are Sponges When It Comes to Moisture

When it comes to harvesting soy, get it out of the field as soon as possible. If you planted varieties that tend to dry down much slower or have a fuller season variety, they are likely too high in moisture content. To solve this, I would harvest the “dry ones” first. If you have all your planting data in FieldView™, this process is relatively simple. You can see exactly which varieties are planted where, and quickly get up and running when conditions are right. But above all, remember that beans are sponges when it comes to moisture.

FieldView makes it easy to see which varieties are in which field.

Soybean fields with freeze damage will also likely hold a mix of green soybeans and mature soybeans—so have your settings ready to collect the immature beans out of their pods without smashing or crushing them. This is a challenge and relies on the clearance setting and the rotor or cylinder speed.

2. Get Your Corn to Black Layer (If You Can)

Cobs will be wetter and more easily broken; remember to adjust cylinder speeds carefully. You may also need to account for lighter-weight corn kernels that didn't have enough time to mature. Be patient. If you can get your corn to black layer, you’ll save yourself some headaches.

There’s also the dreaded gooseneck, green snap or stalk rot to consider. High planting densities and zones with poor nutrient balance are more vulnerable to high winds and storms. Look to your planting and field health maps on FieldView and mark those areas with pins or regions for assistance in prioritizing these fields for harvest — and be mindful of wind speeds.

3. Grain Isn’t the Only Thing You’ll Be Drying

You’ll need to be extra careful about the collection of moisture on the combine. In past seasons, we often have to bring the equipment into the shed and thaw it out overnight because of all the snowing and freezing. If the weather is like that, grain isn’t the only thing you’ll be drying. I’ve actually had to drive in from the field and dry out the combine in the shed. That wasn't much fun, but it only affected us for a couple of days. We simply had to get it done. 

Be prepared to potentially have to make time to dry your combine.

4. Scouting Doesn’t Stop at Growing Season

We've had numerous road closures in our county. We had a wet spring and the roads are torn up. We're going to have some difficulties being able to truck grain around just because of the road damages. Drive the roads now and see where you may run into issues. There are lots of little nuances that you don't know so plan now to avoid in-the-moment decisions that could damage your equipment.

5. Now Isn’t the Time to Train Someone to Run the Combine

Go slower than normal this year. With this wet ground, the combine will get stuck more frequently than usual. It’s not you, it’s the conditions. Now isn’t the time to train someone to run the combine. And if you’re not personally running the combine, you can still closely monitor what is happening in the field. For example, you can set up text message alerts in FieldView to notify you if the operator is driving too fast.

Slow your combine speed to avoid getting stuck.

6. Your Timeline Will Be Compressed This Season

To be blunt, you don’t have as much time as you normally do. This is the season, probably out of necessity, to do no-till if you can, or at least adjust your planting schedule and nitrogen management. Between adding nutrients and tillage, you might need to pick one of the two to complete in the fall. On our operation, the ground froze up last year by the time we finished harvest so there wasn't much tillage done in the fall.

On our research farm, we feel the time pressures as much as you likely do on your farm. But of all the advice and learnings I’ve had over the years, the best is to always be mindful of safety. Don’t let the stresses of the season distract you from the importance of taking the time needed to be safe. Best of luck.

About the Author
Charles Courtney is a Field Research Manager for Climate LLC located in Chester, S.D. His current research focuses on corn, soybean, and winter and spring wheat. He originally relocated to South Dakota for DEKALB® and has extensive knowledge in their sorghum research for testing, breeding, and production research.