Fall harvest season is right around the corner! Farmers who grow crops like corn and soybeans are gearing up for one of their busiest seasons of the year. We sat down with CommonGround MN volunteer, Bekah Gustafson, to ask some key questions and learn more about fall harvest season on the farm.
Q: What are your key crops in harvest season?
The key crops that we harvest in the fall are corn and soybeans, and this typically begins late September/early October. We also grow a fair amount of hay on our operation, which gets harvested several times a year throughout the summer. We keep what we need to feed our animals and then sell the remainder. We typically sell significantly more than we keep, depending on the amount of hay we are able to make. This year due to the extreme drought, we don’t have nearly as much to sell.
Q: When is the busiest time of the season for your farm?
We have two very busy seasons on our farm – spring planting and calving, and fall harvest. It is definitely all hands on deck to get the crop out of the field. We typically harvest our soybeans first and then the corn. Harvesting corn is a bit more labor and time intensive than soybeans. The beans are simply just a smaller size, so you can fit more of them in each wagon load, which means less time driving to-and-from fields. We also do not have to dry them and are able to store our entire crop in our grain bins. However, soybeans get tough to harvest once the sun goes down. They don’t easily shell from the pod, so it is best done during the day, which gets difficult since we work full-time jobs off the farm.
Corn harvest takes a bit longer, but we can work later in the day to harvest corn. It is a bulky crop, so it takes a lot more loads to get it out of the field and back to the farm. The corn kernels have to contain only a certain percentage of moisture in order for it to keep during storage, so we dry it in a large grain dryer before we are able to store it in the grain bins. We also store all of our corn in our grain bins and will sell it when the market prices are decent or sell it when we have a contract to fill.
Q: What kind of tools, equipment or technology does your farm use during harvesting?
As far as technology and equipment, we harvest with a combine and use a lot of gravity boxes and tractors to haul the crop back to the farm. It gets augured into a holding tank, and then goes either into the grain bin or the dryer, which is run on propane and is pretty much a giant clothes dryer. We test the moisture of the loads with a little hand-held meter. We don’t have a lot of fancy equipment when it comes to harvest, it is a pretty simple process.
Our combine will tell us yield information, but we also compute this based on bushels per acre. A combine, if you are wondering, is a large machine that cuts off the stalk of the plant, and shells the corn kernels or beans from the husk or pod. It sends the “trash” as we call it (or the stalks, leaves and husks) out the back, and the kernels and beans are held in a holding tank on the combine. Once the tank is full it is augered into a grain cart or wagon and taken back to the farm. The trash is left in the field as compost to replenish the soil of nutrients. Sometimes, especially if there is a large amount, you will see a farmer gather the “trash” and bale it for use as bedding for animals, however that is not something we regularly do on our farm.
It is a very busy season, and we spend many long nights combining and hauling grain, but once the crop is in the bins and the equipment is cleaned and parked in the shed it is such an awesome feeling of accomplishment.