Fall Harvest – Corn or Soybeans First?

On our farm, we raise corn and soybeans. Both crops are harvested in the fall.  Did you know that in some areas corn is harvested first and other areas soybeans are harvested first?

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Corn being harvested. The corn is “fed” into the header on the combine where the corn kernals separate from the leaves and stalks. The leaves and stalks become compost for the soil.

On our farm in Northeast Kansas, we always start harvesting corn first.  Our corn is ready anytime from late August to mid-September depending on when the corn was planted and the weather Mother Nature provided throughout the growing season.  Some years we can be completely done harvesting corn prior to starting soybeans.  Other years, we’ll harvest corn for a few weeks then switch over to soybeans.

Once soybeans have lost their leaves, they need to be harvested ASAP. As the soybean pod dries down, the beans can “shatter” by splitting the pods open, and allowing the individual soybeans to fall to the ground. The soybeans can’t be picked up off the ground – they literally fall on top of the ground and there isn’t a machine that’s able to pick them up.

Fall Harvest canvaOn the flipside, typically, corn will “stand” in the field, and we can go back to harvest after the soybeans are done.

THIS is where we have a challenge this year.  The corn stalk quality is not very good this year which means that the corn can blow over or fall down easily the longer it’s in the field.  Heaven forbid a big wind storm or rain come through and be further detrimental to the corn falling over.

Did you know that areas that are north of us harvest their soybeans before corn?  Each area grows varieties that work well in their area, and the ones in the north mature earlier. Partially this is because soybeans are light dependent, and the days are shorter farther north.  Likewise for our area in Kansas, the days are getting shorter, and the soybean plants are all maturing quickly.  The northern half of Nebraska and north into the Dakotas and Minnesota harvest soybeans first then switch to corn.  The southern part of Nebraska and south into Kansas and Missouri harvest corn first then switch to soybeans.  You could draw a line across the United States – north would harvest soybeans first and south would generally harvest corn first.

So what are we going to do on our farm?  We will switch from corn to soybean harvest as soon as the soybeans are ready.  We know that the longer mature soybeans stay in the field the more will shatter and the less there will be to harvest.  Hopefully, the corn will continue to stand. A few years ago when the corn was down, we invested in a corn reel for the combine which makes it easier to pick up corn that’s fallen over.

Like many other farmers, we will continue to work long hours to bring the harvest in.  It can be a stressful time of year, but it’s also very rewarding to bring in the harvest.  We grow crops, now we’re harvesting.

2012 Soybean Harvest

Soybean harvest started on our farm a couple days ago.  Like every year, this one has been full of challenges.  The drought of 2012 will not be soon forgotten.

There’s a lot of variance across our bean fields.  A soybean plant is green then as the days get shorter the leaves turn yellow and the plant starts to drop its leaves until all that is left is the pods.

Soybean plant with all leaves dropped

Most years we would wait until all the leaves are gone before harvesting, but this year we’re starting harvest with some of the leaves still on the plants.  This doesn’t hurt anything, but it is a little more challenging to harvest.  The reason we are harvesting now is the pods are dry.  Once the pods dry down, the beans have a tendency to “pop” out of the pods.  If the beans fall to the ground there is no way to retrieve the bean … so it’s then just lost.

Soybean plant that’s “dropping” its leaves. Notice the pods are dry.

Our farm was fortunate to receive some rains in late August and early September which did help our yields.  Although our corn crop was about 30% of average, the late rains helped the soybeans.  Based on the initial yields it looks like we may have 80-90% of a crop.  The early beans we’ve harvested look like they will be good quality.

Soybean pod

Where does all that grain go?

We just finished corn harvest and will start harvesting soybeans in about a week.

So, where does the grain go it leaves our farm?

Grain being unloaded from the combine. Ready to haul out of the field.

In our area, corn can go to feed livestock (chickens, turkeys, hogs, and cattle), made into ethanol fuel, or sent to the Gulf of Mexico to be exported.

  • Livestock feed – corn is mixed with other feedstuff into a ration and fed.
  • Ethanol – Like most newer processes, processing gets more efficient as time goes on.  One bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol & 17.5 lbs of distillers grain.  Distillers grain is a by-product that is fed to cattle.
  • Exports – One of the many things I love about agriculture is that we produce something that can be exported.  Last year 13% of the corn was exported to other countries.  Higher demand domestically.  In many cases, the corn will be fed to livestock.  As I discussed in my blog post on November 7, 2011, two of the largest populations of the world have a huge number of people moving from poverty into the middle class, and with that change, they are demanding more meat protein in their diets.

Our soybeans will either go to local processing plants, made into biodiesel, or exported.  This is a neat link to “soybeans many uses”.

  • Processing plants – The soybean plant is crushed to separate the oil and the soybean meal is feed to livestock which is a high protein feed.  We are fortunate to have a couple soybean plants close to us, so most of our beans go direct from our farm to the processing plant.
  • Biodiesel – One bushel of soybeans produces 1.5 gallons of biodiesel.
  • Exports – About 45% of the soybeans are exported.  A lot of the soybeans are exported to China and fed to poultry and pigs.

End of summer and corn harvest 2012

Ugh … I’m sure somewhere there is a Blogging 101 that says you should never start a blog post with “ugh”… but it’s probably appropriate for this post.  As I look back, I’ve been a bad blogger the past month, and I’m sorry for my hiatus.  These are the highlights (or lowlights?) of what we’ve been up to.

Harvest – unloading grain from the combine into the grain cart

  • Corn harvest (PIC)
    • This is a tough harvest.  The heat and the drought really took a toll on our crops.  It looks like we will have about 25-30% of an average crop.  Normally, we would just be starting to harvest, and we will be done harvesting corn in a few days.  It’s not a good situation for us or many other farmers.  I’ll go into this in a little more detail in the next several days, but we are so thankful for crop insurance.  Similar to one’s house or car insurance, we would rather not have to ever use our insurance, but we’re glad we have it in a disaster – and this year is most definitely a disaster.
    • Back to school.  I’m pretty sure that I am in denial that my baby is now a senior in high school.  How can this be?  It seems like just a few months ago I was taking a picture of him on his first day of kindergarten.  ((sigh))
    • I attended a social media conference.  Wowsers – the stuff that one can do in social media is amazing.  And, I’m pretty sure I came up with a legitimate reason that I really need to try Pinterest J
    • County 4-H fair.  My kid had a nice fair, and he has one project that was eligible to go to the Kansas State Fair.  The State Fair starts this weekend, and we’re anxious to see how his project does on this level.  Although it’s fun to see how each kid’s projects do, my favorite parts of 4-H are watching how the older kids help the younger ones and seeing how each kid’s skill improves over the years.
    • A quick trip back to my home state to meet my newest niece.  What a sweet little baby she is!

Wheat Harvest

I like love harvest.  Exactly why is hard to put into words, but I suppose it’s that you get to complete the task and you get to see the bounty of what you planted and tended several months before.  It seems like in life there are very few things that you actually get to really finish.

My husband and I don’t always have wheat on our farm; generally our growing conditions are a little more favorable for corn and soybeans.  However, this year we had wheat, and it yielded well.

Looking across the wheat field from the ladder of the combine

For those new to farming – a combine is the harvesting machine that we use to separate the kernels from the plant.

Looking across the wheat field from the ground

Notice how thick the wheat is.

Wheat head

The wheat “head” contains the berries that will be thrashed out.

Combine Head as the wheat comes into the machine

The combine header will cut the wheat plant at the stem.  The head of the plant will go through the machine and separate the plant material from the kernels.  Behind the seat of the combine is a bulk bin that the kernels will be collected until they are off-loaded into a truck.

Looking behind the driver’s seat into the bulk bin that temporarily holds the grain

The bulk bin can hold about 200 bushels.  1 bushel of wheat is 60 pounds.  One bushel of wheat makes about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread.

Off-loading the wheat into the truck. View from the combine.

The truck can haul around 925 bushels of wheat.

Off-loading view from the ground.

The wheat was fairly tall this year so once the wheat was harvested, the straw was baled and removed from the field.  Then soybeans were double crop planted into the wheat stubble.  Double crop means that we hope to yield two crops from this field in one year.  Mother Nature will need to work with us a little on rain, but if the conditions are right, we’ll harvest the soybeans in the fall.

Soybean Harvest

As you may know, I’m a Colorado girl who grew up on a wheat farm with cattle and pigs.  When I moved to Kansas 12 years ago, I didn’t know anything about soybeans and very little about corn.  Where we live in Kansas, we almost always harvest our corn first then our soybeans.  However, farther north, a lot of farmers will harvest their soybeans first.  Soybeans are more temperamental than corn.  When the soybeans are ready to harvest, the farmer better get to harvesting.

Let me tell you why.  Soybeans are very temperamental with moisture, so with the heavier dews that we have in October, it’s later in the morning or early afternoon before the soybean plant is ready to harvest, and we usually have to stop working around dark because the plants get “too tough” to continue harvesting.  This means that the kernels will not come out of the pod very well.  With the fluctuations in the moisture, the soybean kernel will swell and shrink, this makes the kernels more likely to “pop out”.  If the kernel pops out on the ground, there’s no way to collect it, and it’s just lost.  So we harvest as much as the weather allows.  Things like this are more of an art than a science in farming.

We finished corn harvest early last week.  One difference between corn and soybean harvest is that corn does not “take on the moisture” as much as soybeans do.  Generally with corn harvest, we will work until all the trucks are loaded for the next day, which means there are lots of nights during corn harvest that the day may not be complete until 9 or 10 pm.  With soybean harvest, the day is usually done by around 8 pm.  If the wind is blowing we can continue to work for a while after dark.

We are over half done with our farm’s soybean harvest.

Taking a snack break before getting back to work (Dad, Papa AKA Grandpa, Uncle Ben, and the MessMaker).  This is the way lunch and afternoon snack are eaten at harvest time – out of the back of a vehicle.  By eating in the field it really reduces the amount of time that it takes for a meal.  We’re sitting in the machines while working so it gives everyone a good chance to stretch their legs.  A lunch meal may be a casserole, vegetable, bread, and a dessert.  An afternoon snack might be crackers & cheese with fruit.

 

 

Harvester – the harvest machine is called a “combine”.  This machine was named a combine because it combined the process of cutting the plant off and thrashing the grain from the plant.  Prior to this invention, the plant had to be cut off, and then hauled to a stationary thrashing machine to remove the grain.  Obviously, this was very time consuming.  History lesson over – notice the soybeans piled at the top of the combine – the bin is full and needs to be off loaded.

This is the “head” of the combine (the harvesting machine).  The soybean plant is cut off at the base of the plant.  You can see soybean kernels (they are yellow and about the size of a garden pea), on the right side of the picture is a soybean plant that hasn’t gone through the machine yet, the dried pods resemble a garden pea plant, these plants had about 3 soybeans per pod.

Off-loading the soybeans from the combine to a grain cart.  In this picture we are “unloading on the go” which means the combine is continuing to run, and unload at the same time.  The driver of the grain cart and the driver of the combine have to work together to drive the same speed so no kernels get dumped on the ground.  The grain cart will then off-load to a semi-truck.  The semi-truck will take the soybeans to our farm bins for storage.  We will wait until later to deliver the soybeans to a processing plant which will process the soybeans into oil and meal.

Thanks for visiting our farm during harvest!