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Snow adds to trickiness of this year’s harvest

Article cover photo
An early season blanket of snow moved across Iowa this week creating more delays with an already difficult harvest. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

Sixty-six percent of the state’s soybean crop has been harvested, according to the Iowa Crop Progress and Condition report issued earlier this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Mostly dry weather — and the threat of snow — propelled harvest progress in much of the state last week.  Iowa soybean harvest as of Oct. 27 was 6 days behind last year’s progress, the report said.

“We pushed hard and got our soybeans harvested Monday night before the snow,” said Val Plagge of Latimer. “A lot of farmers around here either finished with beans or they are wrapping up soybean harvest.”

She said soybean yields were down a bit compared to last year. However, corn yields are better than expected.

Soybean and corn yields were down a bit from last year on Tom Adam’s farm near Harper.

“It was a crazy year for weather,” Adam, an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) District 9 director, said. “A year ago was the best crop we’d ever seen for corn and soybeans. Seems like this year we were lucky to get the crop we had.”

He said soybeans yields were down about 10 bushels per acre from last year. Corn yields were down 20 to 30 bushels per area.

He finished his own harvest before the area saw about 3 inches of snow Monday night. He moved to other farms and fields nearby to complete some custom work.

In northern Iowa, farmers with wet corn are faced with an additional challenge.

“The later-planted corn is wet, and now we’re hearing of propane shortages,” said ISA District 2 Director Casey Schlichting. The crop report said 26% of Iowa's corn crop was harvested as of Oct. 27.

Schlichting was able to harvest seed corn and soybeans. He still had about half of his corn acres to harvest when snow fell earlier this week.

Compaction concerns

The added precipitation is causing concern about compaction in fields, said ISA Regional Agronomist Drew Clemmensen.

“The season is late enough that farmers are harvesting when soils are too wet and they frankly don’t have the time to let them dry out like they should,” Clemmensen said. “This is creating compactions issues that will take multiple years to correct.”

Ethan Crow in Marshalltown says soil compaction is a concern this year on his no-till farms.

“The paths we’re running our grain cart on are definitely getting some heavy compaction,” Crow said. “It’s a little too muddy out here to be comfortable.”

But days are getting shorter — Daylight Savings Time ends Nov. 3 — and farmers want to get a close on this year’s crop.

Crow finished up soybean harvest this week with yields smaller than previous years. He adjusted the cutter bar on his soybean head to catch most of the lower podding beans this year. He had some head shatter as a result. Snow forced Crow to put a pause on corn harvest, which began on Monday.

“In our area 75 to 80% of the corn crop is still standing,” he said.

Corn yields and conditions are variable depending on the field. Corn stalk quality is poorer in some fields as a result of this year’s weather and growing conditions.

“From what I’ve been told, the ear cannibalized the stalk so the plant could put all of its energy into the corn. This took all of the nutrients away from the stalk,” Crow said.

Harvest considerations

Harvesting in wet conditions not only increases drying and fuel costs, it also has consequences for the 2020 crop, said Scott Nelson, director of ISA’s On-Farm Network. He offers some things to think about:

  1. Control your traffic. Every field and every farm in Iowa needs to have a plan to control traffic. Eighty percent of compaction occurs during the first pass of a tractor or harvester. In keeping your grain carts and tractors on previously compacted lanes, you are not adding much more compaction and you are preventing compaction on your non-trafficked areas.
  2. As much as possible, delay harvest until field conditions improve. Make a ribbon of topsoil with your fingers. If the ribbon breaks off within one or two inches, the potential for creating compaction is low. If the ribbon stretches out to four or five inches, it is too wet, and chances are good harvesting under these conditions will cause compaction that will affect next year’s crop.
  3. If harvesting under conditions that are too wet, consider reducing your load sizes. Not filling your harvester and grain carts to their full capacity reduces the weight on wet soils and helps to minimize compaction.
  4. Optimize your tire size and inflation. Larger tires with lower air pressure have been shown to reduce load pressure and compaction.
  5. Tillage is not the solution. Many farmers believe they can cure compaction from wet harvests with tillage. This is only partially true. Tillage can alleviate ruts in the field but creates a compacted layer just below the tillage implement. If you are attempting correct compaction issues after a wet harvest, it is very imperative to wait until soils are dry or you will create even worse conditions for the 2020 crop.

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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