By now, just about everybody knows it’s wet. As anticipated, the soybean harvest across the nation is significantly behind schedule. Soybean farmers across much of the Midwest can’t do much but wait. And hope. The longer it takes for fields to dry out, the greater the likelihood that seed quality will go down. Some farmers are starting to see problems with seed shatter and sprouting. It’s not good news.
Soybean Harvest Behind Schedule Across Nation
According to the Weekly Crop Progress Report from the USDA, soybean harvest is falling even more behind- especially in the western Corn Belt. A lot of soybeans are still in the fields as farmers wait for things to dry out. At the beginning of this week, soybean collection was 38% complete. That’s significantly behind the five-year average of 53% for this time of year.
The USDA rated soybeans at 66% good/excellent. That percentage has dropped a couple of points since last week.
Wet Weather Impacts
Soybean harvest has been slow due to the heavy amounts of precipitation received over the month of October throughout a lot of the Midwest. Iowa has been hit especially hard. Only 19% of Iowa’s soybean crop has been harvested. That’s the lowest percentage ever recorded for Iowa soybeans for this week of October.
Prior to October, this year’s soybean crop was anticipated to record-breaking. Many were growing their best soybean crop ever. Now, having to watch and wait- and not be able to get out there and harvest them- has been difficult to take.
North central Iowa farmer April Hemmes is still waiting to harvest her soybeans. This fall has been the wettest she’s ever seen.
“I have not picked a bean,” Hemmes says. “I have not combined one bean yet and I am in the majority here. Hardly anyone has done any beans.”
She hopes the yields are still out there. She’s seen some pod-splitting, but no sprouting. Stalks are deteriorating, and as soon as it’s dry enough, Hemmes plans to get out there.
Soybean Shatter is Becoming a Problem
Soybeans are excessively wet, and farmers are starting to see more problems in the fields because of it. Pod-splitting, or soybean shatter is one of them. What is it? Why does it occur?
Soybean plants naturally want to drop their seeds. Breeders have been working diligently to try and pull that trait out, but it’s extremely difficult. It’s not controlled by just one gene, and it’s difficult to replicate and study it out in the fields. So, shattering is something breeders are always working on.
Pod Sutures Opening Up
The soybean pod is held together by a seam called a pod suture. This seam can withstand normal variations in moisture and dryness experienced during the fall months. The longer mature soybeans stay in the field, the more they vacillate through wet or dry conditions. This, over time, weakens the pod suture and can lead to shatter.
All of the moisture this fall- just as the soybeans were maturing- has caused the beans to swell. Some are just shattering right out of their pods.
If it’s warm and wet for long periods, the soybeans sometimes sprout inside their pods, stretch the pod suture, and then shatter.
Widespread Shatter Means Yield Loss
Once the soybean seeds come out of their pod the yield is lost. And these losses add up quickly. It’s estimated that dropping just 4 seeds per square foot of soil can equate to a loss of one bushel per acre.
Even if some soybean farmers are able to harvest most of their crop before the seeds drop, exposed seeds are a problem. They can rot or sprout and earn lower prices when brought to the elevator. Once a seed sprouts the oils and carbs that they contain transform into sugars. That makes them more likely to mold.
Its advised to check fields closely before harvest, to see how widespread shatter may be. If there are particularly bad areas, farmers might want to consider harvesting that separately from the rest. The longer the soybeans remain unharvested the more shatter we’ll see.
Tips to Harvest Soybeans Prone to Shatter
To avoid significant losses in yield, extra care should be taken when harvesting soybeans prone to shatter. Here are some tips from Michigan State University Ag and Soybean educator, Michael Stanton.
- Decrease your ground speed to 2.5 to 3 miles per hour.
- Increase the reel speed in relation to the ground speed incrementally to the point that the lodged plants are being cut and gathered into the combine without beating the beans out of the pods.
- Position the cutter bar as close to the ground as possible.
- Angle the pickup fingers on the reel back slightly to more aggressively pull the lodged plants to the cutter bar.
- Reduce the angle of the fingers if the plants are riding over the top of the reel.
- Run the reel axle 9 to 12 inches ahead of the cutter bar.
- Contact the manufacturer for specific recommendations if using an air-assisted reel.
- Operate the reel as low as necessary to pick up lodged plants without causing them to ride over the top of the reel. Raise the reel if this happens.
- Consider installing vine lifters on the cutter bar if the plants are severely lodged.
- If the plants are badly lodged in one direction, try adding vine lifters to the cutter bar and harvesting at a 30 to 45 degree angle to the direction of the lodging. If this doesn’t work, harvest all of the lodged plants in the direction opposite to way they are leaning.
Make the Most of Dry Weather
Soybean farmers need to take advantage of any dry weather patterns and get out into their fields to catch up on harvest. Dale Mohler, an Accuweather Meterologist, says that there’s going to be a short dry period at the end of October across much of the Midwest. Soybean farmers will have to do what they can to get their harvest completed in that window.
“We’re looking at drier and chillier weather. I think there will be a fair amount of sunshine throughout the Midwest. Plus, there will be strong winds that should help these fields dry out, too,” Mohler says.
In November, he anticipates that the rainy and stormy weather will make a comeback. He’s not expecting the record amounts of rainfall like October, but the rain will come regularly.
“There will be fairly frequent amounts of storms and fronts that come through the Midwest. I don’t expect November to give us many breaks. “We’re going to have to fight to get to the finish line, as far as the harvest this year.”
This has been one of the wettest Octobers ever recorded in large parts of the Midwest and it’s slowing down the soybean harvest significantly. Soybean farmers need to take advantage of any dry weather that comes along in the next week. Doing so will help decrease the likelihood of soybean shatter and sprouting.