Sunday, November 10, 2013

Day 10: Harvest...As Translated From My Farmer To Me

Cody went to work yesterday and I didn’t hear from him until 7:30 last night. Normally I wouldn’t worry about what he was doing (I try really hard not to worry), but when your significant other works as an Ag mechanic at a John Deere dealership and farms with his dad as well, worrying at some point is inevitable. A few years ago one of his co-workers didn’t properly prop a combine head up while working on it and he was killed when it fell on him. Can you see why I get worried sometimes?

View of corn from the cab of the combine

So as punishment for making me worry yesterday, I decided Cody needed to explain what is happening with #Harvest13 in his neck of the woods (is making a farmer talk about farming really punishment? It is when he tries to explain things to his girlfriend who asks too many questions!) You see, I really don’t have a clue about machinery. Or crops. I mean I can discuss them with you, but I don’t have that “I was born with this knowledge” assurance. Now if we were talking about animals, I am so on top of that. I really feel bad for the boy because I get really lost when he tries to tell me about his days.  

What’s that honey? Oh sounds like that was tons of fun. Oh some tiny piece in the middle of that great hunk of metal caused the whole thing to stop working? Wow. That’s nuts. (Do you see how lost I am…hahaha)

So from here on out if I get anything wrong (and I know I will hear about it from the boy later), please forgive me!

Soybeans going into the truck to be hauled
Like everything else in farming, there are so many factors that play into every decision. For grain farmers, harvest of the crop becomes a possibility once the crop has died naturally (which usually occurs around October). Then it simply becomes a matter of waiting for the crop to dry naturally. Sometimes choosing when to harvest is a battle between when/how much it rains, how nice the weather has been/will be, etc.

Generally soybeans are naturally dry enough at harvest time (13% or less is ideal), but corn can often be trickier to manage. Because of the weird weather this year, the corn that Cody is seeing is running between 18-30% moisture. The problem with having a really wet corn crop (again 13% is ideal) is that the grain needs to be dried artificially in a grain bin.

Why does it need to be dried? Because otherwise it can become moldy, which causes a whole host of other problems.

Why not just leave the corn in the field until it dries naturally? Snow. Yep, the white stuff gets in the way if you wait too long.

How do you know what the moisture content of the crops are? Well if you are on foot, a handheld moisture tester comes in handy. Or as most farmers would say, shell a few beans and chew on em and guess the moisture content (now that is some serious skill).

But anyway back to corn harvest. Cody’s dad has been hauling his corn into the local Co-Op. The moisture has been 19-24%. When you haul grain into an elevator they dock you if the moisture content of your crop is above their accepted percent because they must then dry it. The local Co-Op docks 30 cents per bushel per moisture point above their accepted percentage (above 13-16%). Of course this is different everywhere but the same principles hold true. When the elevator has to dry the grain they charge for shrinkage. An example is at 22% moisture, with 900 bushels on the truck, the elevator will only pay for 800 bushels because they charge 100 bushels in shrinkage.

Now what about the equipment?

Cody combines at 4 mph with a 12 row head (30 feet wide) using a Caterpillar combine. Because Cody is a die-hard Green fan, I’m always asking why they have a yellow combine? The answer? Because it has tracks which are handy to have in muddy conditions, more so than dual wheels…and because the price was right…typical farmer answer J

There are different heads used for different crops.

Soybean Head
Corn Head

A flex head is used for soybeans because it flexes to follow the ground. Soybean plants (the whole plant) are cut off at the ground with a sickle-a bar with teeth on it similar to a hair clipper. Corn, on the other hand, is harvested using a head that has rows (because corn is planted in rows) and deck plates (bear with me here…I had a hard time with this too!). Each row has 2 stalk rolls that counter-rotate, suck/pull the cornstalk through the rolls and the cob is pulled off through the deck plates. Only the cob and some leaves actually go through the combine where the cobs are shelled, separated, and the residue is spit out the back end.
See that dust coming out the back? That's the residue. 

When I asked Cody about the monitor in the combine, he told me that it would be too difficult to explain everything that is monitored. So I am going to leave it at the monitor tells you the speed of all the moving parts in the combine, the yield (bushel per acre), moisture, and loss of crop out the back end (you really want this to be zero, otherwise you are wasting money).

Whew…I think I managed to get everything right. Maybe. Hopefully.

So hopefully that helps explain a little bit about what goes on during Harvest. If you are still lost, don’t worry, I’m right there with you!

But we all have our talents…good thing I have my farmer! Whom I can loan out if need be ;)

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