When should you start harvest? And in which field? Brent Tharp, agronomy and product training manager for Wyffels Hybrids, says waiting too long to harvest can lead to dropped ears, kernel loss and stalk lodging. “Shortly after black layer, when kernel moisture gets around 25%, that’s a good time to start,” Tharp explains.
Even though farmers will have the added cost of bin drying, Tharp believes the benefits of a timely harvest outweigh the expense. Stalk issues won’t improve, they will only get worse.
Now we know when to start, but what about where?
Tharp says planning your harvest schedule depends on what you find during scouting at the end of August. “A good harvest plan depends on crop conditions, like disease pressure and stalk quality,” Tharp says. “The first step is to scout so you know the situation.”
Dennis Bowman, extension educator with the University of Illinois, agrees, “The key is to scout and determine which fields have issues and get those out early.” As you hit the field for pre-harvest scouting, there are several factors to consider. Here’s a rundown on what to look for, common agronomic situations in the fall and which fields to schedule first:
• Stalk check: Start from the inside out by splitting stalks and looking for disease, Tharp says. Clean, white tissue is a good sign. Tharp recommends scouting all the way up to when the crop starts to senesce, or naturally deteriorate, and prioritizing fields showing signs of disease for the first part of harvest. As harvest approaches, pay close attention to stalk rind strength. “Pinch the stalk a few inches above the ground,” Tharp notes. “The stalk should feel solid and shouldn’t crush easily.”
• Disease check: Fields with early leaf disease are more susceptible to poor stalks later in the season. “Field scouting prior to harvest will give you a heads up on high-risk fields that need attention first,” Bowman says.
• N check: Tharp notes most corn plants had adequate nitrogen and stayed green all the way to the ground this growing season. “It’s not unusual for the bottom two leaves to ‘fire out’ during later grain fill stages, but I don’t get too concerned about that,” he says. “I don’t like it when it’s fired up to the ear leaf during grain fill.”
• Rain is good; wind, not so much: “The rain has been nice, but it’s come at an expense when we have the wind with it,” Tharp says. Several fields have wind, hail damage, green snap and root lodge issues. Angie Peltier, extension educator with the University of Illinois, says fields at the Monmouth research center suffered from wind and hail damage. Goose-necked stalks linger in the field. “While the crop seems okay, harvesting all of the ears will be the tough part,” she says. That’s why Tharp recommends scheduling fields with wind and hail damage for an earlier harvest – they will take more time.
• No drainage? Start there: Tharp says hybrids will deteriorate quicker in fields with poor drainage.
• Disease entry point: Not only is harvesting lodged or goose-necked corn challenging, but stalks and plant tissues damaged in storms leave an entry point for disease. Tharp recommends keeping a close eye on root-lodged or goose-necked corn, as disease may set in.
• Cannibalization: The corn plant will go to extremes to keep developing kernels. Tharp says plants without solid roots for water and nutrient uptake, or plants not getting what they need from photosynthesis, will take sugars from stalk tissue and move it to leaf tissue and the ear. Sugars taken away from stalk tissue will cause weaker stalks.
• Get early hybrids out early: If you planted an early hybrid for your maturity zone, Tharp says to schedule that field for the first part of harvest.