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Fall harvest presenting challenges
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Soybean harvest off Hwy 27 near Eastman on Oct. 17.

It’s a large soybean and corn crop this fall in the United States, Wisconsin and right here in Crawford County, according to most everyone. However, the harvest is off to a slower start almost everywhere than is has been in a couple of years.

Those involved are quick to point out the harvest is just a bit behind the average schedule locally. Late-maturing crops, a lack of killing frosts and resulting high moisture content in the crops are all playing a part in the delay.

Amazing progress was made on the soybean crop from Thursday, Aug. 9 through Sunday, Aug. 12, when favorable weather conditions sent the moisture levels to 11 to 13 percent in much of the local soybean crop. That’s below the 15 percent level at which the beans can be harvested, shipped and stored. That level of moisture is also low enough that growers are not penalized in price for having too much moisture present in the commodity.

During the four- or five-day window, local farmers went after any soybeans that were ready for harvest. How much of the soybean crop was harvested during this time is open to speculation and may have some relationship to the locations of the harvest.

Crawford County Ag Agent Vance Haugen was impressed with the speed of the harvest and believes about half or more of the crop may have been harvested as of Friday, Oct. 17.

The initial harvest came to a halt Monday, Oct. 13 and Tuesday, Oct. 14, during a two-day rainstorm that dropped two-and-a-half to three inches of rain on the county.

Crawford County USDA Executive Director John Baird estimated between 40 to 50 percent of the soybean crop was harvested by Monday, Oct. 20.

“The rain really slowed things down last week,” Baird said earlier this week. “They're just getting back into the field this week.”

Local grower Daryl Aspenson from Mount Sterling said that they had harvested about one third of their soybeans during the window of opportunity earlier in the month with moisture running about 12 to 13 percent. He also noted the yield was about five bushels per acre better than the average yield.

The rains last week definitely bumped up the moisture content in the crop and Aspenson said it was running 16 to 17 percent on Monday. Nevertheless, he was ready to harvest on Monday and probably would not bother to put the beans through a dryer.

“We’ll take a loss at the river, if they’re 16 percent,” Aspenson said in reference to being penalized for being over the 15 percent moisture level. He explained attempting to dry the crop for one percent moisture was just not a financially sound choice.

For his part, Aspenson is hoping to be done harvesting the soybean crop in a week-and-a-half.

Another local grower Swede Knutson reported making good progress in the soybean harvest on Thursday, Oct. 9. He was hoping to finish the bean harvest by Sunday, Oct. 12.

Aspenson said the timing on the harvest was about average for his operation. His usual plan is to sell all the soybeans in November and then start on the corn harvest.

The lowest estimate on the amount of soybean harvest completed came from Seneca Feeds owner Owen DuCharme who thought only about 10 to 15 percent had been completed by Monday, Oct. 20. Like the others, he said the beans remained wet after the heavy rains of October 13 and 14.

However, DuCharme felt the harvest would resume this week if the weather “stays like it’s suppose to.”

If the local soybean harvest had a hiccup with the heavy rain early last week, the corn harvest may be looking at an even tougher situation. The late-maturing crop, without a killing frost in most cases, was no better than 20 to 30 percent moisture levels when the rains came. There’s been little drying since.

With moisture levels far above the required 15 percent and lower prices, farmers are hard pressed to harvest the corn and spend lots of money drying it.

To date, most corn being grown for grain locally remains not harvested. Some farmers are just beginning a corn harvest. Many are waiting to see more drying in the field before starting.

Farmers harvesting corn for silage and high moisture corn earlier this season for use as feed were happy with the yield. It confirmed what everyone is predicting–a record-breaking corn crop this year. However, the predictions of a bumper crop have sent prices down.

The corn growers are caught in the middle facing lower prices with corn too high in moisture.

Haugen, the county ag agent, has seen very little corn being harvested for grain and estimated on Friday, Oct. 17 that only two to three percent of the county’s corn crop was harvested. One area he saw some harvesting taking place was on sandy soils near the Wisconsin River.

“A lot of farmers are thinking with the prices down let the corn dry in the field,” Haugen said.

The ag agent also believes some growers may have planted longer day corn hoping for larger yields and ran into “a perfect storm” of cloudy cool summer days and a late arriving killing frost that has left the corn immature and moist.

Despite the current lower prices some farmers, like Aspenson, were able to lock in higher prices in the spring with contracts. The local farmer has half the crop sold for $5 per bushel cash. The remainder is covered by crop insurance to a price higher than the current $3.20 to $3.50 per bushel.

As Aspenson works through another challenging harvest, he can only chuckle about the situation.

“I don’t know if I know what a normal year is anymore,” the local framer said.

As the corn and soybean growers work their way through a season complicated by low prices, the livestock producers are faring much better. Dairy and beef farmers are enjoying some of the all-time record high prices. The milk price remains well over $20 per hundredweight and the live cattle price is nearly $168 per hundredweight. Add to the equation that livestock producers will also be the beneficiaries of lower feed prices for any feed they’re buying and you have a much happier group of producers.