The harvest scramble
Farmers rush to collect crops before freeze sets in

By Gay Griesbach - Special to Conley Media

Oct. 22, 2019

Farmers scrambled to clear fields this weekend in advance of cold and rainy weather.

A killing freeze reported in pockets of northern and central Wisconsin is expected to spread to this area, with below-freezing low temperatures expected Thursday and Friday and into the week of Oct. 28 to Nov. 3.

The soybean harvest was about 10% completed, about 10 days behind average and 37% behind the five-year statewide average, according to an Oct. 13 U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress and Condition report.

University of Wisconsin — Extension Crops and Soils Specialist Mike Ballweg said soybean farmers still have a normal harvest window, which is usually the end of October.

He said generally, if farmers wait for sunshine and relatively dry air, moisture will be low enough to harvest without adding drying costs.

“We’ve been fortunate not to get any snow that would knock down the plant,” Ballweg said.

Harvest of corn and soybeans started a little later than average in some areas — sometimes delayed by two weeks, according to USDA reports.

It’s mainly due to rain.

Precipitation for the year was almost 10 inches above normal in Milwaukee and 11 inches over average in Madison, according to an Oct. 20 climate report from the National Weather Forecast office in Sullivan-Madison.

Ballweg said wet soil is more likely to become compacted. That compaction decreases soil health and can have a negative effect on next year’s crop.

In the case of harvesting corn silage, some farmers have been forced to add the extra step of using dump buggies in the field before transferring silage to semi trucks parked at the edge of fields, a move that both slows the process and adds costs.

He said in the area the corn silage harvest is nearing completion.

“It’s important to get that done early while whole plant moisture is suitable for storage,” Ballweg said.

Optimum moisture for corn stored in bunker silos is 65-70% for the whole plant.

Statewide, 49% of corn was reported mature, 23 days behind last year and 16 days behind average, according to the October 13 USDA report.

Ballweg said grain corn for cattle can have higher moisture — in the 25-30% range — while those selling to elevators want to bring moisture levels as low as possible to avoid paying drying costs.

Colder temperatures and fewer hours of daylight reduce that dry down in the field.

There is also a tipping point where stalk rot and ear rot worsen the longer grain is in the field.

“This year farmers will want to pay attention to the condition of their crop and how well it’s standing,” Ballweg said.

Mostly due to the weather, the USDA’s Farm Service Agency reported that this year Wisconsin had 602,000 fewer acres planted. In Washington and Waukesha counties, that total is over 10,000 acres.

Because of the unusual weather the USDA allowed farmers to plant cover crops after July 1 in order to reduce soil erosion, improve soil health and give farmers to opportunity to grow a forage crop for their animals, Ballweg said