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Tips for Dealing with Cold Weather and Moisture at Harvest

November 5, 2019

Corn with snow on the ground at harvest

As corn and soybean harvest wraps up, cold weather conditions can add a layer of difficulty. When it comes to snowfall or excessive moisture, it’s important to know how your crops will react, and how to reduce potential yield loss.

Snow affects corn and soybean harvest in 2 main ways: decreases crop quality and makes mechanically removing the crops more challenging. The crop quality goes down because of repeated freeze and thaw cycles, causing the seed to lose weight and seed coats to crack. Mechanically, combines slip and slide and get off the row, and maintaining the head height for optimum removal is challenging. Time becomes a factor, as slower moving equipment adds cost and stress.

All of the above impacts crop yield. Freezing temperatures cause split pods and seed shattering in soybeans, reducing volume and test weights. Higher moisture levels can creep in, as snow gets mixed with the crop in the combine and bins. Freeze damage can reduce grain quality, making it more difficult to sell.

Researchers at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach share tips on how to harvest after snowfall to help reduce yield loss and equipment failure:

  • There’s low probability of a first snow sticking around, and what it leaves is undesirable moisture in the soil and grain. Allow grain to dry to sufficient levels before resuming harvest, and wait for soil conditions to firm up to avoid compaction and rutting.
  • Snow means wet pods and husks, which can lead to evaporative cooling that may result in plant material sticking to the grain. It’s especially problematic for soybeans, which can experience split pods and seed shattering from wetting and freezing conditions. Avoid harvesting when air temperatures are 27 – 35° F.
  • Wet and frozen grain is hard on combines and can lead to equipment break-downs. Adjust combine settings to take these conditions into account, be proactive with equipment maintenance and make needed repairs.
  • Weigh the pros and cons of harvesting wet grain (maybe as high as 25% grain moisture) compared to in-field yield losses from delayed harvest. What is the balance between yield loss and drying costs?

For help weighing the pros and cons and more advice on corn and soybean cold weather management, contact your local Syngenta representative.

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