As harvest season begins, area farmers are still battling weather

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 It’s been a strange season for Switzerland County farmers — from the heavy rains that delayed planting in the Spring to a lack of rain that has caused concerns now, but as harvest begins in the county, early results are just as wide open.

  “Things are just getting started, I’ve seen a little bit of beans and a little bit of corn being harvested,” Chuck Deputy of the Farm Service Agency said. “From what I’m being told, the beans are doing decent — 45 to 60 (bushels per acre), but I don’t think that’s going to hold across the board.”

  Deputy said that a normal year sees a normal rate of 55-60 bushels per acre, so he said that the early soybeans are holding up, but he fears that as farmers get into harvesting soybeans that were planted later, officials are going to see averages fall closer to the 45 bushels per acre rate.

  Deputy said that the lower harvest rate is a result of both weather phenomenon from this season — heavy rain early that kept farmers from getting in the fields on time and the nearly drought conditions now that have kept corn kernels and beans from fully developing.

  “Late planting and lack of moisture now and all of this heat we’ve had,” he said. “It’s a combination of all of that.”

  Deputy said that it’s common to see farmers harvesting soybeans early in the fall, followed by corn, but conditions are forcing farmers to adjust normal harvest procedures.

  “As I was driving I saw some corn being harvested over in Ohio County, and there’s corn here, too,” Deputy said. “It’s running anywhere from 75 to — some of it that was planted real early I’ve heard some 50s, but not large amounts, just small fields here and there. Most producers are running in that 100 to 125 range right now.”

  Deputy said that he believes that the problem with this year’s corn crop is that it never really matured — again due to wide swings in weather — so kernels just dried up on the ear from the lack of rain and the heat.

  “We’ll be interested to see what some of the later crops will look like (in terms of bushels per acres production),” Deputy said. “The years I’ve seen on the corn, this harvest is probably average at best. It’s not going to be a very big year. There’s not a very big kernel on them right now. A lot of them (ears) have tips of them, maybe the last couple of inches or so, it looks more like popcorn than it does field corn, because it never went ahead and matured out to the end, so that’s going to impact the yields when they get done.”

  Deputy said that the start of the harvest season is about normal compared to past years.

  “The guys who got crops out early, now’s the time that they would be about getting started,” he said. “So as far as timing it’s pretty normal. The first I heard of a run was around the 18th of September a few fields got started. The guys who were able to get out early crops have been going for a week or so. Overall the beans got planted a little later than normal, which is why you’re seeing more corn run right now.”

  With the heavy rains, back in planting season farmers were faced with a decision on whether or not to plant fields at all. A federal crop insurance program provides a “safety net” so sorts for farmers, and as the deadline to file for that insurance drew closer, farmers where contemplating what their crop would look like come harvest time.

  “We had quite a bit here in the county,” Deputy said. “As far as percentages to normal, we had about 25-percent and about 18-percent of soybeans. It really wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be — I thought we’d have a lot more acres; but compared to other counties, there were other counties that had a lot more than we did. It helps us being on rolling ground more. Rolling ground helps fields to drain quicker, so that’s about where we stood.”

  Deputy said that those farmers who apply for the crop insurance, producers who can’t get acreage planted by a certain date, they have a certain guarantee — which is based on the level of coverage that they take out.

  “There’s a guarantee of so much per acre, but that varies policy to policy based on what they chose,” Deputy said. “If they take the insurance and then go ahead and plant anyway, they take a one-percent reduction per day after the end planting date. That’s why a lot of guys rather than taking that reduction will just go ahead and take that guaranteed payment, because if you’re past by five or 10 days, that’s a pretty good reduction in your guarantee.”

  The irony of the situation is that many of the decisions that farmers were forced to make concerning their crop insurance was based on too much rain — exactly the opposite problem that producers are seeing now as the growing season comes to a close.

  So even as the harvest season gets underway, rain — or lack of it — is still playing a big role.

  “Rain late in the season really helps in filling out the ears and filling out the pods — the size of the bean and the size of the kernel,” Deputy said. “So with some rain late in the season, it can still help. But even if it rains now, it’s too late for the early crops anyway; but some of these late crops might benefit a little bit as far as going ahead and filling out the kernel on the ear and the pod on the beans.”

  So: smaller kernels and smaller beans take up less room, so that reduces the bushel per acre rate across the board.

  “The plant may look good, but if the bean isn’t big enough, you’re looking at not only not as many bushels per acre, but also your test weights going to be lower, which is going to reduce your total bushels per acre. So not only the size of the bean, but the test weight on the corn more so than beans, will affect the total production per acre,” Deputy said.

  Deputy said that the harvest season typically runs through November, with some farmers finishing up in December — again critically dependent on the weather.

  “If the weather holds like this and we don’t get a lot of rain, probably by late November they’ll be done,” he said. “But I say that in a normal situation. This year, it kind of depends on the weather and the plant itself. Some of these late beans, they’ve still got a lot of leaves and are still green, those may not get harvested until after the first of the year, possibly, with the weather. They’ll have to wait until they’re ready. There’s a lot of variables. A lot of different factors this year.”

  Deputy said that it’s not unusual for some producers to plant soybeans late; noting that how quickly those plants mature dictates when they are harvested.

  “I’ve seen quite a bit of beans out there that still have quite a few leaves on them and are still green, so farmers will need to wait on those until later in harvest. We’ll just wait and see what happens as we go along.”

  Overall, farmers have battled through the early rains and late season droughts, but as they now begin to see what results those weather patterns had on their crop, again the weather will impact how quickly they get harvesting completed, because more heavy rain in the fall could delay everything.

  Welcome to the life of a farmer.