2019 Crop Year: One for the Record Books

Posted: December 18, 2019

It was one of the toughest, most challenging crop years for farmers.

Local farmers couldn’t get a break this year. The 2019 year was problematic for getting corn and soybeans planted and harvested in DeKalb County.

Farm equipment tore up fields attempting to harvest this year’s crop, including some equipment getting stuck in the mud. The ruts will result in soil compaction and have an impact on next year’s crop.

The wet spring delayed most planting until June. Then in the fall when the later maturing crop was ready to harvest rain and snow pushed back harvest into November and then December.

Simply stated, soils were saturated in the fall based on above average precipitation. Farmers were forced to wait for drier field conditions or take chances on getting their equipment stuck in the mud.

Farmers took precautions as best they could to avoid getting stuck. Many farmers used roads to unload their grain from combines and grain carts into their trucks.

To better understand the harvest dilemma, many questions were raised by urban people. We asked a local farmer to respond to these questions. Don Young farms in eastern DeKalb County. Like other farmers, he also was affected by weather and a late harvest. He answers these questions:

How did the wet weather affect this year’s harvest?

The wet weather has clearly put harvest behind schedule. Not only has it been difficult to operate the various machines and perform the various tasks of harvest, it has also been difficult to place the trucks to haul the grain away in areas to safely load them.

Because fields were too wet, semi-trucks had to park on roads in the process of hauling grain. Otherwise the semis may have gotten stuck in fields. (Above) Matt Case unloads his grain cart into his truck for transporting grain to his Hinckley farm.

Can farmers harvest in the snow?

You can harvest when there is snow, just as long as there is no snow on the plants. If snow gets into a combine, it seems to build up on the screens and therefore effectively plugging the machine and preventing it from separating the grain from the chaff. On rare occasions, you can harvest with snow on the plants, but the outdoor temperature must be cold enough to keep the snow from melting down and sticking to components on the inside of the combine.

Does temperature affect harvest conditions?

Outside temperature does affect how harvest progresses. For example, warmer weather and rain have made fields muddy and unworkable, and the later you get in the field the less drying days there are. Cold temps are needed to make the ground frozen and solid. A firm surface means the combine can cover ground easily during harvest. It also allows trucks to park in the field as they are being loaded.

What happens to the quality of the crop in December?

I don’t think quality is as much of an issue as is potential loss. As the harvest progresses from fall into winter, plants become more fragile.  Heavy winds, rains and snow can break the plants down and make them harder to harvest.

This was a common sight seeing mud-laden combine tires trekking through corn fields.

Will next year’s crop be impacted by the ruts left in fields from this year?

With the wet weather, many ruts have been created in the field.  These ruts will more certainly cause compaction, and we will see the battle scars in the next crop year. We will see areas of stunted corn and beans. These plants will be unable to grow as efficiently due to the inhibited root development in the highly compacted soils. Also, I have had many questions from farmers who practice no-till, on what their options are to complete harvest in this muddy situation we are in presently. They are wanting to wait until the ground freezes to avoid the rutting situation.

Will farmers still be able to do some field work this winter?

I feel some tillage work can still be done as long as the top of the field surface gets firm, and we do not have a deep setting frost.