Prioritizing Fields For Harvest

Darren Bakken, Seed Technology Manager

This year, don’t rush into harvest without a plan. Make strategic moves to get the most yield out of each field. We spoke with Darren Bakken, Seed Technology Manager for AgVenture, about how to prioritize fields for harvest.

What factors should influence the harvest schedule? Geography? Crop condition?

Growers should make decisions based on the condition of the products within each of their fields. In perfect growing conditions and in the absence of insect/disease pressure, a harvest schedule can generally be set based on the relative maturity of the hybrids planted. Unfortunately, issues throughout the growing season could set up a scenario where fuller season hybrids will need to be harvested first due to deteriorating crop conditions.

What mistakes can be made when prioritizing fields for harvest?

The most common mistake is not taking the time to extensively scout fields and set a harvest schedule. We want to base our decisions on scouting, planting date and relative maturity of the hybrids. I suggest taking the time to scout several areas within the same field to assess crop condition and overall condition of the field. Variability in soil types within a field can dramatically affect crop condition. Additionally, late season insect or disease issues are not always consistent across an entire field.

Perform a pinch test to assess stalk quality and predict potential issues. Assess ear shank strength for the potential for dropped ears or combine header loss.

What should growers look for during scouting to help determine their harvest schedule?

Growers should be assessing stalk quality, overall standability (roots and stalks), as well as the presence and severity of any disease or insect infestations.

One of the best things a grower can do is perform a pinch test to assess stalk quality and predict any potential issues later in the harvest season. This is nothing more than “pinching” the stalk between your thumb and forefinger approximately 6-12 inches above the ground. Weaker stalks will feel hollow and easily collapse while strong stalks will be hard to pinch. Perform this test on several plants within a row and in several different spots throughout the field.

Growers can also perform a push test to assess root health and quality, as well as stalk health. This can be performed by pushing the corn plant at or above ear level until the top of the plant touches the neighboring row. Plants with healthy roots and stalks will spring back to an upright position while compromised plants will not.

I also encourage growers to assess ear shank strength for the potential for dropped ears or combine header loss. While you’re doing this, be on the lookout for any ear rot diseases like Diplodia, Gibberella, or Fusarium that could affect grain quality and grain storage capabilities.

Field evaluations

This year has seen a large amount of replanting in many areas. How does replanting play into the harvest schedule?

Replant can definitely change the equation, especially if replanting was delayed enough that fields had to be switched out of fuller season hybrids into earlier maturing products. A hybrid’s relative maturity is based on data and observations from within that product’s normal area of adaptation. If you plant an early maturity hybrid south of its intended zone of adaptation, heat units are accumulated much quicker than in the area the hybrid is adapted for. These hybrids often perform and act differently than they normally would in their intended zone. Stalk quality is a huge concern when early maturity hybrids are planted (or replanted) south of their zone of adaptation.

What else should growers consider as they head into harvest this season?

The other thing that growers should consider is the economics of harvesting corn in the 22-28% harvest moisture range. Research has shown that this is the ideal moisture content for harvesting corn to avoid most forms of harvest yield loss. The economics of growing corn this year may make growers think about letting good-condition corn field-dry below this range to save on drying costs. Oftentimes, these savings on drying costs are offset by yield losses associated with harvesting corn that is too dry.