Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Michigan Soybean Harvest Moving Quickly

The dry August in our region of the eastern U.S. Midwest first showed its impact on our crops with how quickly both our soybeans and corn matured. That meant we started harvest a couple weeks earlier than average. However, soybean yields have been below average so far, due to the lack of rain when the soybean pods were filling. It’s too early for us to know how our corn will yield.

Shortly before harvest started, we had cover crop seed flown onto our fields. We were near the local airstrip, so we watched them transfer the cover crop seed from the truck to the airplane and take off. Then we went home to watch them apply that seed to our fields in less than a day. The crew of three airplanes that came to our area planted about 1,215 hectares, or 3,000 acres, of cover crops that day, including our farm. This year, we planted annual ryegrass as our cover crop.

We started harvesting corn on September 14. We had seen evidence of tar spot in our corn, a disease that is relatively new to our area. The disease causes small black spots on the leaves that look like tar and hurt plant productivity. It also weakens the corn stalks so that they lodge, or fall over. That makes it harder to ensure the combine picks up all the corn ears. One specific corn hybrid seemed to be most susceptible to tar spot, so we harvested it first. Tar spot is the reason we considered a late fungicide application in August, but now that we’ve started harvest, we are confident our fungicide application earlier in the  season reduced the impact of this disease. This is the first season we have made management decisions based on this disease.

After picking just that at-risk corn, we switched to cutting our soybeans.

It rained about 15 cm, or 6 inches, over a few days, keeping us out of the fields for the entire third week of September. This rain helped the cover crops to germinate and start growing.

By the last week of September, soybean harvest started moving at full speed. However, because there is less to harvest, we can move a bit faster. The moisture in the soybeans has been about 11%, which is lower than the ideal of 13%. Our soybeans go from the field directly to our local grain elevator to be shipped.

We sold some of our soybeans ahead of time to spread our risk. We didn’t get the highest price, but we ensured a set profit for part of our crop. The rest of our soybeans will be stored at the elevator as we watch prices to decide when to sell them. We typically store a portion of our corn on our farm until we deliver it for sale throughout the year.

We love harvest. Everyone has a role, and every piece of machinery has a purpose. Either my husband Jim or my son Jake runs the combine. When we harvest corn, Jim usually runs the grain cart, which carries grain from the combine to the semitruck at the edge of the field. When we harvest soybeans, we use the grain cart to hold soybeans while the semitruck delivers the previous load to the elevator so we can continue harvesting. We hire someone locally to drive the semitruck. I drive the grain cart when needed, help coordinate moving machinery between fields, pick up parts when they are needed, and keep everyone fed.

We work closely with a neighbor, sharing labor, advice and support as needed. Harvest creates a camaraderie among farmers. Even though we all want to get our crops in, we share similar experiences in the day-to-day activities. We are willing to lend a hand when needed.

In addition to teaching classes for non-traditional students in the mornings and helping with harvest, I am always looking for ideas we can implement in the future. I attended a Women in Agribusiness conference, where I learned about new inputs that could help our crops. I also participated in an online meeting focused on conservation, where I heard about practices that could improve wildlife habitat and biodiversity. I take notes on new ideas, and then Jim, Jake and I will discuss them as we plan for next year. One idea I’d like to try is growing high oleic soybeans, varieties that produce oil ideal for food use.

We compare the effectiveness of many inputs in trial plots on our farm. This allows us to learn what inputs and practices fit into our farming system, with our focus on sustainable practices like conservation tillage, cover crops and protecting water quality.

But first, we will finish harvest. Aside from weather and equipment breakdown delays, it will take about eight days to cut all our soybeans. Then we will combine the rest of our corn.

This field update is funded by the soybean checkoff. To share or republish part or all of this Ground Work 2021 article, please link to the original article and credit www.USSOY.org.

Laurie Isley

U.S. Soybean Farmer

Michigan

Laurie Isley is currently president of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee (MSPC).