Harvest for the record books continues in Dickinson County

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Dickinson County farmers are in the last stretch of a very late harvest season. (File Photo)

Farmers across Dickinson County are feeling the effects of a record-setting slow harvest. Larry Lago, Dickinson County executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency notes that this past month marked the wettest October for the Lakes area since 1881.

Trying Times

While Lago compares moisture totals to 1881, he notes that the last harvest that ran this late was 42 years ago.

"I point back to the month of October which was real key," Lago said. "It was just cooler than normal and wetter than normal, and really, that's caused the harvest to be the latest ... we've experienced since 1962."

For Paul Kassel, field agronomist for ISU Extension in Dickinson County, this year's harvest lag harkens him back to 1985, a year when a lingering snow in the beginning of November combined with a cool summer and rainy fall, significantly delaying harvest.

"Any farmer that farmed in the '80s, they can tell you all about that year," Kassel said.

Tim Titterington, a Milford area farmer, notes that fellow growers see similarities to the harvest of 1957, but he personally has no comparison.

"I've never seen so much trouble with wet corn, wet beans, people just trying anything to get it done," Titterington said.

The past year's growing and harvesting conditions have been a frustrating mix of weather patterns all their own.

"In Iowa we've gotten over 6.3 inches of rainfall; which is four times greater than normal," Lago said. "That translates into the inability to get into field because of field conditions, let alone the ability to have the crop matured and dried out."

The wet October combined with an unseasonably cool growing season throughout the summer took a toll on crop development, according to Kassel.

"Basically, the corn, we planted early, but with kind of a cool summer, (we) were kind of behind this summer on heat accumulation, and a lot of the corn didn't mature until early October and basically just had really terrible conditions to try to dry down," Kassel said.

Drying Demands

One obstacle farmers are left to contend with is the above-average amount of drying time required of the crops already taken from their fields.

"The corn is not drying down like it normally would, so they're taking it at higher levels of moisture which is causing more drying," Lago said. "We're having to take more moisture out of the corn than we typically do which translates into higher costs because they've got more drying costs associated with that."

Titterington notes his usual drying ally fell through last month.

"Usually Mother Nature helps us out by having a warm October to dry this stuff down," he said. "This year, we lost 480 heat units in October, which is needed to help dry the corn and beans down because it was so wet. October just didn't work for us this year."

Tittterington also noted difficulty in obtaining enough LP gas to keep his dryers in operation, a strain farmers across the state have been feeling.

On Nov. 7, Gov. Culver addressed the increased demand for propane by suspending the hours of service requirement for truck drivers delivering LP. The suspension of the rule aims to bring propane into the state quicker, ensuring an adequate supply for farmers drying their crops.

Late Crops at Fall's Mercy

As the calendar extends deeper into autumn, crops still in the field are vulnerable to the elements of late fall climate changes.

Kassel notes this presents a whole different set of challenges to producers.

"The longer it stays out there, the more ear droppage, stock breakage and stock loss you'll have that will increase the losses and the potential for loss of quality," Kassel said

Lago also notes the undeniable effects of extended field time.

The longer the corn stands in the field, the stalks on the corn actually weaken," Lago said. "Consequently there is a chance that the corn will start to go down and lodge, which then there could be ear droppage which just makes it more difficult to actually harvest it ."

The End is Near

When it comes to the tense topic of harvest completion, Kassel has varying opinions for corn and soybeans.

"I think the beans will pretty well be wrapped up (this) week and then probably a lot of them even (last) week because its such a good stretch of weather," he said. "The corn, that's kind of a guess; you've got such a huge volume to handle and its so wet it could be December, easy."

Lago notes area producers are feeling the lag in their harvest completion comparisons.

"Typically, by this time of the year, the majority of the crop has been harvested," he said. "I think we're going to see harvest through the month of November this year."

Titterington, who hopes to finish his bean harvest by the middle of the week, notes his corn is still mercy to the ongoing moisture levels and backlog at local elevators.

Silver Lining

In a season of gloom in both weather and harvest outlook, producers and agronomists alike have trouble finding shreds of optimism.

"As far as a silver lining goes, I'm struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Titterington admits.

Kassel looks back to late summer for the bright spots of this past season.

"I guess it's a positive that we had a real dry August and September, and then we had all this moisture pool and reach the subsoil moisture for next year," Kassel said.

He also notes that the obstacles of the past harvest have likely led many producers to evaluate the adequacy of their operations, allowing for improvements in efficiency.

"I think there's a lot of people who have upgraded their tractors and their rolling stock, or their tractors and combines and planters, but maybe its time to look at upgrading their drying and grain handling," Kassel said.

For Lago, the light at the end of the tunnel is a long-awaited, sunshine-filled end to the harvest.

"It looks like the forecast is such that we're going to get some good weather here in this part of November, with the ability to harvest a lot of crops in a short amount of time," Lago said. "I think farmers are going to be pleased they have a good crop to harvest, and it looks like it's going to be a period of time here where they're going to be able to get it out of the field."

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