A wet spring and tough fall conditions have led to a late-winter corn harvest season, which has more farmers than usual considering leaving their crops in the field until spring
By Jackie Clark
Late planting and inconsistent fall weather and field conditions have meant that many growers in Ontario were climbing into combines to harvest corn past Christmas. In an extended harvest season like this one, farmers must make decisions about when it is beneficial to harvest and when they should leave corn in the field.
“The impact of the weather on customers trying to complete harvest is significant,” Deanna Nemeth, field crops manager at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), told Farms.com.
“Wet field conditions and past snowfall continues to limit producers’ ability for harvesting,” she said. There are also “continued reports of high grain corn moisture (25 to 29+ per cent moisture, where the storage optimum range is 15 to 20 per cent moisture),” she added.
Wintertime harvesting can also pose safety or machinery challenges.
Nemeth has “heard farmers speak about the concerns of harvesting in wet and frozen field conditions, which could result in plugging in the combine and equipment damage.”
As the new year arrives, some farmers may consider leaving corn in the field to harvest in the spring. However, this decision can be risky.
“Over all Ontario, there will likely be more corn than normal left in the field until spring, but harvesting is still in process, especially in high snow risk areas. Overwintered corn is at risk of snow damage,” Nemeth explained.
“Leaving corn in the field over winter could impact quality and yields; and additional spring labour pressure to complete both harvest and spring planting,” she added.
Dr. Dave Hooker, a professor at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, studied estimated yield losses from overwintering corn. He estimated that yield loss would range from 3 to 4 per cent in low-risk regions like Chatham-Kent, 20 per cent in medium-risk regions like Prince Edward County, and 50 per cent in high-risk (or traditional snow belt) regions.
Snow damage has the potential to cause lodging and make harvest difficult. For overwintering corn, “standability is a key factor for assessing risk, and each field should be assessed individually. Factors which can positively affect standability include later maturity hybrids, lower populations, and fungicide use,” the OMAFRA corn seasonal summary states.
Because of the uncertainty of winter weather, “farms without grain drying capacity are evaluating harvesting options (e.g. short-term storage and drying versus leaving corn in the field to overwinter),” Nemeth said. “For farmers who are trying to make crop harvesting decisions, Agricorp continues to work these clients to determine all available options.”
Despite the challenging season, farmers who have reported corn yields are averaging 158 bu/ac, which is close to the 10-year average, according to the OMAFRA corn report.
“Average yields were unexpected considering the tough spring planting and summer crop conditions that we experienced,” said Nemeth. “There has been significant variability in corn yields this year.”
JJ Gouin\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo