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How do farmers determine when corn and soybeans are ready to harvest?

Answer: There are a number of factors which affect crop maturity: varieties, growing degree days, moisture content, and of course weather conditions.

The final stretch is underway. This time of the year is always an exciting time to be a farmer! Our preparations are getting finished up and we are all excited to get in the fields.

Leading up to harvest, there are several things that indicate the crops are ready.

Varieties – Depending on the varieties that we planted back in April or May will be the biggest deciding factor of when crops are ready for harvest. Most farmers in DeKalb County are planting field corn varieties with a range of 105-to-112 day corn maturities, so when corn reaches those days it is usually ready to harvest.

Growing Degree Days – Growing Degree Days (GDD), or heat units, are used to estimate the growth and development of crops during the growing season. Growing degrees are calculated each day as maximum temperature plus the minimum temperature divided by two (or the mean temperature), minus the base temperature.

Moisture Content – Farmers will pick a few ears of corn and hand shell it to get an estimate on the moisture. Typically, farmers will harvest corn between 20% to 26% moisture. Then we will dry the corn down to a storable moisture of 15%.

Weather – Mother Nature will hold the final cards on when we start harvest. As I’m writing this we are looking at some hot air that will speed up the dry down of the corn. Our combine is ready but, we have a few projects to finish up around the grain bin site.

Soybeans differ from field corn. Beans will actually use the length of the day to mature and will respond to the days getting longer. On the longest day of the year they will make changes to their growth and start setting pods for harvest. Beans grown in DeKalb County typically are referred to as a 2.0 to 3.0 maturity. This year was dry, but I think we could see some great bean yields!

In addition to our normal harvest preparations on our farm we are installing a new semi-truck scale. It will be ready by the time the first soybean or corn load is trucked to our farm. The scale will help us determine what varieties worked best for us. By weighing each load we bring across the scale we can determine yield. On our grain scale we weigh the truck, take a sample of grain, and then dump it into a pit. From the pit it is elevated up into grain bins for storage.

On our farm we also use the scale for other things. The scale will help us weigh loads of cattle, loads for grain we feed to our calves, hay that we sell, the weight of calves after they have been weaned, the weight of the hogs when they arrive on the farm and the weight when they leave. All these different weights can help us be more efficient.

Harvest is happening soon. One of the big questions on my mind is how did the drought in June and July affect us this year? Time will tell. I’m excited to see the results of this year’s crop.

KEVIN FAIVRE IS A 5TH GENERATION FARMER AND RAISES PIGS, CORN AND SOYBEANS. KEVIN AND HIS WIFE LIZ AND CHILDREN ALEX AND JOE RESIDE ON THEIR FARM IN RURAL MALTA.