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Grain quality in focus as farmers continue harvest

Article cover photo
As November nears, the threat of frost increases. This year's variable weather has impacted soybean conditions in the state. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Pushing into November, weather continues to be the main factor in farmers’ ability to get their crop harvested, said Charles Hurburgh. He manages the Iowa State Grain Quality Research Laboratory at Iowa State University (ISU) and the ISU Extension and Outreach-based Iowa Grain Quality Initiative.

“This year’s planting season was strung out, making it one of the latest on record,” Hurburgh said.

This set the stage for expectations of wet crops and frost risk when crops were still immature, he noted.

There was a stretch of warm weather in September, which sped up crop progress. In some areas, crops “ran out of steam” and died, Hurburgh said. In other cases, late-season rains affected crop conditions.

Such was the case in Monticello, said Jason Russell, a soybean, corn and livestock farmer.

“Yields are down from last year in our area, and there are reports from some farmers that it’s due to open pods,” Russell said.

Soybeans were mature, then exposed to wet and dry cycles, he said. About 50% of the soybeans were harvested in Russell’s area. He hasn’t been able to get into his soybean fields yet.


As November nears, the risk of frost increases — some areas in the state have already seen frost on their crops.

Hurburgh says soybeans hit by frost should be stored and managed separately from other soybean crops.

“They will be wet and also green and mushy,” Hurburgh said. “Frost lessens the shelf life of soybeans, so it’s best to leave those beans separate and let them dry down on their own.”

The worst thing to do, Hurburgh said, is to harvest those beans and sell them right away. In doing so, it causes concerns among processors due to color standards. A lighter green soybean likely fits within the standard. A darker green suggests damage. For processors, green soybeans make green oil. The oil then has to be refined more heavily to get the greenness and bitterness out, Hurburgh said

Farmers should store green soybeans in a bin and aerate for several weeks. The greenness should subside, Hurburgh said.

“Green damage issues shouldn’t be as acute then,” he said.

Charles Hurburgh, manager of the Iowa State Grain Quality Research Laboratory at Iowa State University, says farmers shouldn't cut corners in grain storage this year. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Foreign material

Weed control was tricky this year due to late planting then rainy weather. In some cases, soybean rows didn’t close, creating space for weed escapes and waterhemp after the last application of herbicide.

“That’s going to make more foreign material when you have more weeds,” Hurburgh said.

Shorter plants with pods set close to the ground adds another obstacle this season.

“The tendency will be to run the bean header low to try to get as many pods as possible,” Hurburgh said.

As a result, he expects more dirt and weeds seeds in harvested soybeans this year than the last several years.

“Modern combines do an awfully good job of taking trash out of soybeans,” Hurburgh said. “It’s not always a problem, but I think it will be this year.”

Hurburgh says pulling the center core from the bin will help in delivering clean loads of soybeans to market.

Loads are discounted at the grain elevator based on a percentage of foreign material present; for example, 2% foreign material in the soybeans means 2% less weight marketed.


Data shows the protein level of this year’s soybean crop is lower due to a shortened season.

“Protein is formed late in the season, so if you shorten the growing season, you tend to lose protein,” he said.

Hurburgh expects soybean meal protein content to drop 1% this year—to about 46% protein.

In doing so, livestock farmers should work with their nutritionists to determine if feed rations should be adjusted.


Moisture levels in Iowa soybean fields are varied, ISA members say. Bill Foell of Schaller said soybeans coming into the elevator in his area were about 13% moisture.

“Moisture content has been higher than we wanted all fall,” Foell said. The area saw 6 inches of rain in September and another 1.5 inches of rain this past week.

Jim Fitkin of Cedar Falls said the wet/dry cycles have caused yield loss on his soybean farm.

“I figure I’ve lost 5 to 6 bushels per acre from shatter,” he said. Later-planted beans have hovered around 13% moisture, he said.

Aerating is the key to drying down soybeans, Hurburgh said. Also, the moisture in this year’s corn crop could be highly variable depending on planting date, hybrid, etc.

Hurburgh said this year’s harvest would be a test of management and patience—just as this year’s entire planting and growing season has been.

“Don’t cut corners at harvest, and don’t cut corners on grain storage management.”

Contact Bethany Baratta at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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