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Juggling the Bean Harvest
Friday, September 19, 2014 4:41PM CDT

By Emily Unglesbee
DTN Staff Reporter

ST. LOUIS (DTN) -- When Brad Nelson surveys his 400 acres of patchy soybean fields, he sees an especially irritating harvest schedule unfolding.

In every field but one, the Albert Lea, Minn., farmer has soybeans that could be ready for harvest by Oct. 10, side by side with patches of beans that won't be ready until November. The variable fields are the result of heavy June rains that forced Nelson and most of his neighbors to replant around 6% of their soybean acres in early July.

"It complicates everything," Nelson told DTN. Everything from harvesting to trucking grain and figuring out fall tillage and fertilizer applications will become doubly challenging.

Nelson's plight is a common one across the Midwest this year, University of Wisconsin agronomist Shawn Conley told DTN. Droughty areas, early summer flooding and replanting and a slowly maturing crop have left many producers with varying levels of maturity across their soybean fields. Recent frosts in the northern states like the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa could also further slow the maturity process in some bean fields.

In a tight-margin year like this one, growers need to weigh their harvest decisions in these fields carefully, Conley said. The three options -- harvesting patch by patch, taking immature beans early or leaving dry beans in the field -- all have important economic and agronomic implications.


Nelson is hoping to find the time and patience to harvest his spotty fields patch by patch this fall. "We'll just combine beans when they're ready and then leave the ones that aren't," he said. "Then we'll go pick corn and come back to those later."

This strategy is the safest bet for preserving the quality of soybeans, Conley acknowledged. "In general, when beans are ready to go, you have to take them," he said.

Challenges still remain. Growers often have to move limited supplies of large harvesting equipment between distant fields, he pointed out. Precious time and fuel will be wasted and growers will be racing winter weather when they try to revisit immature bean patches in November.

Figuring out how to do fall tillage and fertilizer applications in a semi-harvested field adds another layer of decisions, Nelson said. "Do you wait to do the whole field? Or do you go around them? It's a real nuisance," he said.

For these reasons, Conley said many growers who set out to do this will probably not succeed. "They're going to get in a time crunch," he predicted.

Should that happen, Conley recommends that growers go out and evaluate their bean quality. If the immature patches have strong yield potential, growers can prioritize them by waiting to harvest when they are drier. If the dried-down beans look to be the most productive, prioritize them instead and get those beans out of the field.


The prospect of waiting for immature beans to dry down before harvesting a whole field is daunting for Nelson, whose replanted beans don't look very promising now. "You're compromising your whole field then," he pointed out. "And you don't want something weather-wise to happen and lose your whole crop. Winter always comes. We've had it come the first of November here before."

But if your field has a substantial percentage of immature beans with good yield potential, it might make more sense to wait, Conley pointed out. "You'll get hurt more with a lot of wet, green beans than dry beans, after dockage," he said.

Keep in mind that elevators will likely be struggling with a wet corn crop already, Conley added. Corn can be dried quickly using heat, but it is safer to dry beans with unheated air, which is an added hassle for elevators. "They can do it, but they don't want to," Conley said.

Leaving mature beans in the field too long can also hurt quality as the beans endure fall weather. "The wetting and drying cycle drops test weights, which hits growers on the bottom line, and also you can have some seed shattering," Conley pointed out.

But if your best beans are ready to go and time is tight, harvesting some immature beans and bracing for dockage at the elevators might be the better option for some growers.

If you are storing your own soybeans, make sure you have the ability to dry them sufficiently to prevent spoilage and germination. "If you take some beans early, then you have to be sure you have the right air flow capacity to handle that," Conley said.

For more details on storing and drying beans, see this Iowa State guide: http://goo.gl/….

For more details on the pros and cons of harvesting overly dry or wet soybeans, see Conley's blog, The Soy Report: http://goo.gl/….

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

Follow Emily Unglesbee on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee


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