Unharvested corn that has been caught in the most recent snow in Mercer County. Photo by Claire Coombs.
The weather across Pennsylvania continues to be unpredictable and give challenges to operators with grain and crops still in the field. Snow and ice over the last couple weeks have just been the latest in a long list of hurdles that growers have had to overcome this season. With some careful thought and planning you can still have a successfully harvest.
Having corn in the field now can be a double-edged sword. The longer it stays out, the dryer the corn will be when harvested, thus decreasing your drying costs. However, there is a higher risk of yield loss the longer the corn stays unharvested. Research on winter corn drydown showed that over a five-year span, corn grain would lose roughly 40% of its moisture between the months of October and December, when left in the field. The tradeoff is that we cannot anticipate the weather. The same study found that a single year yield decreased by 45% and another year decreased by only 5%.
Another concern of unharvested corn could be disease and mold. When discussing disease and mold, snow and ice pose no more danger to your crop than rain does. A positive of this situation is that the lower temperatures could have a limiting effect on pathogens’ ability to incubate or develop. A drawback of having laying snow is an increased opportunity for lodging. This year we have already seen a lot of lodging due to stem rots and adding snow to the mix may increase this risk. The risk of lodging is even further increased when coupled with winter winds and snow and ice to come. The takeaway is that disease and mold issues should not be your largest concern right now.
If you have a large amount of stock rot and lodging, harvesting as soon as possible will be best for a successful harvest. If your corn crop has lodged, one thing to remember is that this is not a usual harvest. Special consideration and care must be taken to get acceptable yields, which means slowing down and using caution. A few other options you have for getting a better harvestable yield are combining in the opposite direction, or “against the grain.” This will allow the head to get under the crop and lift it up. Another option is to use a corn reel. A corn reel is a specialized piece of equipment that mounts on the top of your corn head and uses rotating hooks to lift the corn and allow the head to get under the lodged crop.
The last concern is compaction and rutting of fields. When rushing to harvest before the soil is dried and out of its plastic state, compaction and rutting will occur. To avoid these issues, allow the soil to dry, do not use highly inflated tires, and do not rush to avoid other issues. If you do end up in a situation where you think you may have compaction, try using roots from a cover crop or crop rotation to fix the issue before thinking it must be fixed mechanically. If cover crop establishment is concern, it is very possible to plant single species cover at this date and later into the season.