Adjust Combines for Drought Conditions

It’s going to be an early harvest – perhaps three to four weeks earlier than “normal.” As we posted in our Aug. 15 crop report, crop conditions are well ahead of the 5-year average with 94% of the corn crop already at the milk stage and 80% at dough stage. Third crop alfalfa is one month ahead of schedule.

That means the time is now to prepare for harvest! Harvest, for both and soybeans, typically begins in the Midwest between Sept. 17-27. Soybean harvest is usually finished by Halloween. Corn harvest is most active Oct. 5 through Nov. 10 and usually ends before Thanksgiving.

It’s certainly not going to be “harvest as usual” this fall. Harvest will begin sooner and most likely progress slower. With weak and/or lodged stalks and stems, slower combine travel speeds will help ensure the crop feeds into the combine as easily as possible. Finding the correct travel speed to balance machine field with crop quality requires checking both losses behind the combine and grain quality in the tank, says Iowa State University’s Mark Hanna with the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering.

Be sure to adjust combine settings for drought conditions. The gap between snapping plates above the stalk rolls on a corn head should be adjusted this year. In normal years, a gap of 1.25 inches is used. Given the situation this year, however, that gap most likely should be narrowed to just over an inch to avoid butt shelling of smaller diameter ears. The use of a reel, cones or divider modifications on the corn head may also help pick up more of the lodged corn.

To help reduce the amount of lodged corn at harvest time, assess crop progress now and identify potential problem areas. Focus first on harvesting fields that show signs of Stalk Rot or exhibit weakened stalks that could subsequently lead to Stalk Lodging. Secondary concerns include hybrid maturity, crop residue management and logistics.

Prepare now for a safe and fruitful harvest!