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A challenging soybean harvest is ahead for Minnesota

Dr. Seth Naeve, UMN Extension soybean agronomist wrote this article for MN Crop News.

Soybean field near Crookson, MN, October 11, 2019.
Photo:  Angie Peltier
Whether it’s ‘insult to injury’ or a ‘nail in the coffin’, rain and snow beginning on October 10, 2019 was not the weather that soybean farmers were looking for. Even in a normal year, rain during the second week of October is not welcome. But, add snow, cold temperatures, and a hugely delayed crop maturation to the mix and we have a real mess on our hands.

According to USDA-NASS, only 80% of soybeans in Minnesota had dropped leaves as of October 6, 2019. This means that far more than 20% of the crop had not reached final maturity by this past Friday. The crop moved along this week, but significant acres will not be fully mature when potentially freezing weather hits this weekend. Only 8% of the crop had been harvested by Friday, compared with the five-year average of 43%. As bad as the fall of 2018 was for Minnesota producers, 36% of the crop had been harvested by then last year. Fortunately, there were significant acres of soybeans harvested early this week, but most soybean fields will stand through the cold and wet weather this weekend and into next week.

Current forecasts call for freezing temperatures across a large portion of Minnesota this weekend. This will end further yield accrual in remaining green soybeans. In some soybean fields with a few green pods remaining, a hard freeze will affect yield little and may allow for a more uniform dry-down. In fields with green leaves remaining, grain quality issues are likely. Green soybeans will be docked at the elevator. Harvest and store soybeans from fields affected by the freeze separately. Do not attempt to blend them off with normal soybeans as you risk spreading the dockage to the larger bin.

Soybean field near Crookson, MN, October 11, 2019.
Photo:  Angie Peltier
Light snow will not affect the crop or harvest much differently than light rain and cold temperatures. However, heavy and wet snow can cause significant lodging in soybean. Areas seeing 6, 12, or 24” of snow could have large yield losses if farmers are eventually able to get the crop harvested this fall.

Current forecasts predict cold and cloudy (at best) weather through at least the middle of next week. So, all that we can do is consider our options for getting back into the field ASAP. Here are some things to think about as we make our plans:

  1. Accept that this will not be a normal fall. We are all going to have to be creative in our approach to getting this crop out. With a shortened window, use your time to collect as many bushels as you can. It may require changing heads, moving augers, revisiting in the same fields, and relocating machines more than you would like, but with an advancing calendar, get what you can ASAP.
  2. After the rain/snow subsides, take some time to carefully scout fields as you wait for the crop to dry. Harvest efficiency will be crucial this year, so spend some down-time scouting for wet spots, map them, then STAY OUT. Stuck combines, carts, and trucks cost time and money, both of which are in tight supply this year. 
  3. Likewise, map areas with immature soybean plants. Plan on leaving replanted areas and areas that had significant standing water after maturity. It is crucial that producers do not try to blend-off green soybeans or submerged soybeans with the combine. Rejection of loads at the elevator could cause significant trouble and financial harm. Similarly, a pocket of wet, green, or damaged soybeans or plant material in an on-farm storage bin can lead to significant spoilage – or much worse. Harvest and store poor quality soybean seed separately. 
  4. What crop to harvest first? In areas with the heaviest rainfall, soil conditions will likely limit field activities before grain moisture. Once things dry enough to support combines and grain carts, monitor soybean moisture closely. Cool and cloudy conditions may limit soybean dry-down. While corn maturity may be delayed even more than soybeans, it is possible that producers may choose to harvest and dry some wet corn for a day or two until soybeans dry enough to thresh and store.
  5. While it is possible to harvest and store soybeans at greater than 13% moisture, producers should carefully plan and prepare for this challenge and carefully consider the risks. Some natural air drying is possible in smaller bins with large fans. Quickly chilling soybeans to 20 to 30 degrees will aid in reducing spoilage. But, some artificial drying at low temps may be required in the spring. For more information on storage, and natural and artificial drying of soybeans see this recent article by NDSU’s Dr. Kenneth Hellevang: Soybean drying , storage could be challenging.

More information

Additional storage information can be found here, Storing, drying and handling wet soybeans and in this Iowa State University publication “Soybean Drying and Storage.”

Be careful

Above all – Please be careful out there. Accidents are most common when farmers are stressed, rushed, or are working long hours. Producers will likely experience all three of these for the next month. Please slow down, look twice, and concentrate. The risks are simply too high.
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