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Weather delays corn, soybean harvest

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ANN MARIE AMES
October 31, 2009
— It's like torture.

Standing on the side of a field, farmers can see what was supposed to be an excellent crop of corn and soybeans.


But instead of ending up in the grain bin, corn is growing mold and soybeans are bursting out of pods and falling into the mud.


"It's probably about as bad as I've seen it," said grain producer Mike Cerny.


Cerny is a member of the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board. He grows corn, soybeans and wheat in Walworth, Rock and McHenry counties.


Soybeans can only take so many cycles of getting wet and drying before the pods burst, Cerny said. He hasn't seen it personally this year, but he's heard it's happening around the state.


And corn is starting to get moldy, and the kernels themselves are light, Cerny said. The poor quality will negatively affect the corn's shelf life, and light corn yields less ethanol, he said.


Producers get paid by the bushel. The best price is for a bushel that weighs 56 pounds, he said.


As the test weights get lighter, the price goes down.


If farmers could get a couple of solid days of work done, they might feel better, Cerny said.


"A lot of guys are not sleeping and I know they're having health issues," Cerny said. "Some take it better than others."


The problem that's going to become more obvious in the next days and weeks if the weather breaks enough for farmers to get into the fields and try harvesting, said Fulton Township producer Scott Farrington.


"It just won't move," Farrington said. "It doesn't look right, doesn't smell right. I still think it's going to be a good yield. It's just going to be slow."


Farrington usually sets a goal of getting his 1,000 acres of corn and 500 acres of soybeans out of the fields by Halloween.


As of Wednesday, he had 40 percent of his beans picked and hoped to have 20 percent of his corn picked by the end of the day.


"If I'm done by Christmas, I bet I'm lucky," Farrington said.


Only about 80 percent of the local corn made it to maturity before the first killing frost, UW Extension crops and soils agent Jim Stute said. Normally, 100 percent of the local corn matures by the end of the season, he said.


As of Tuesday, only 25 percent of Wisconsin's soybeans had been picked, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.


Normally, that number is 80 percent, according to the data.


Along with muddy fields that gum up harvesting, the grain itself is wet, Farrington said.


Marketable corn contains 15 percent moisture, he said. Producers harvest corn at 18 to 22 percent moisture and dry it prior to storage.


At the moment, corn is testing at 27 to 35 percent moisture, Farrington said. Some fields are testing at 40 percent moisture, he said.


It costs between 4 and 5 cents to lower the moisture in one bushel of grain by 1 percent, Farrington said.


So, to bring a bushel of corn from 30 percent to 15 percent moisture, a producer would spend 75 cents.


Using a typical Rock County soybean yield of 50 bushels per acre, a producer with 500 acres of soybeans could spend $18,750 in drying costs alone.


That 75 cents takes a big slice off the top of a bushel of soybeans that on Wednesday was selling for $9.43 per bushel in Clinton.


If producers prefer to let nature take its course, they can leave the grain in the field and hope the rain stops and the grain dries before it snows, Stute said.


Snow won't hurt the drying grain, but it can make fields muddy or weigh crops down so they can't be harvested, he said. If the rain keeps up, it could knock the corn over before the snow does, Cerny said.


"You have people all over the board," said Rod Lyga with the DeLong Company, 3726 N. Newville Road, Janesville. "Some guys are going about their business and harvesting. Others are not going to harvest so they don't have to dry. It just depends on whatever your mindset is. Some guys can't sleep knowing their crop is in the field."


The normal 10-week harvest window is shrinking, which will mean more grain trucks, tractors and combines on the road in November and December, Stute said.


It also could mean a lot of the fall fieldwork that normally gets done after the harvest isn't going to get done until spring, Stute said. And next year's winter wheat can't get into the ground until the soybeans get picked.


It's a lousy way to end a nail-biting growing season, Farrington said. Yields look to be good, but high yields don't do much good sitting in the fields, he said.


"I'm picking some corn today (Wednesday)," Farrington said. "It's the first time I've worked since last Wednesday. The stuff won't dry down. It's cloudy every day.


"It's just depressing."



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