By Halloween, the 2009 harvest season only had one way to go - up. Many farmers were convinced it couldn't get much worse. Farmers with any sizable acreage of soybeans planted at all had at best about half of the crop out of the field. Only a few had run corn, since many fields were still wet.
Soils were saturated. And on Halloween eve, downpours drenched much of central and northern Indiana yet again. Reports of moldy corn flowed in from everywhere. Tales of aphids in doublecrop soybeans, fields too wet for wheat planting and visions of white mold and sudden death syndrome in soybeans seemed to complete a gloomy picture.
It's been nearly four decades since more than a few with extreme circumstances harvested crops in January or alter. Believe it or not, there was a stretch so bad in the early '70s where one farmer, perhaps under-equipped, harvested corn in June, before planting the field back to soybeans. In fact, one small field tucked away behind a woods never did get harvested. What was left of it was still standing in the spring two years after it was planted. The farmer finally plowed it under and started over- or tried too. Imagine volunteer corn after turning under an entire crop, even it had been standing for two years.
No, I don't make up the stuff you read here. I couldn't invent such a tale, but I witnessed it, so I know it's true. And while few if any others were delayed by such extremes, many didn't harvest soybeans until January and corn until February on frozen soils back then.
Hybrids and varieties that mature earlier, bigger equipment that allows harvest to progress quickly and maybe even in soils where it shouldn't progress yet, and a string of reasonably good falls for harvest had made those years memories, and only for those with gray hair around the edges. The younger generations of Hoosier farmers haven't experienced harvesting in the mud in January, as soils thaw out by noon, or harvesting on days with a frigid wind hitting you in the face whenever you open the combine cab door on a 20 degree day. And they haven't felt the frustration of harvesting corn half flat and half riddled by deer in April, when they should be planting a new crop.
In fact, one farmer supposedly quipped to a neighbor this fall that he thought about retiring before the year started, but was glad he didn't. His son who was taking over had never experienced the kind of fall it looked to be, and so the older farmer figured he probably would have been called back into duty anyway.
Some pessimists say it's darkest before it goes totally black. Those who are more optimistic note it's darkest just before the dawn. Fortunately, the optimists were right. It's hard to imagine now that things looked so glum on Halloween. It's still true that corn harvest won't be wrapped up for many by Thanksgiving, and that some may harvest on chillier mornings than they're used to. But the specter of sliding across muddy, thawing fields, salvaging what soybeans are left in mid-winter are just that for most people- a specter from the past that they can forget again, at least for another year.
Problems are far from over with this harvest. Grain experts warn about keeping corn around too long that came in from the field with mold, or that was low in test weight. Rumors about poor seed quality, especially fro soybeans, circulate, although at least one major seed supplier in the Corn Belt says there will be adequate supplies of good seed next year.
When you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner next week, remember there are always those less fortunate, and always ways things could be worse. You may not be 100% done with harvest and the fall may not have been as kind to you as you liked, but imagine what it would be like if God hadn't blessed Indiana with a 10-day run of Indian summer in early November.
Yes, it's true that Indiana Sumner usually comes in late October. But coming in November is only fitting- nothing else was normal this year either. The best part is that it came, just when it looked like equipping combines with snow shoes might be a last-ditch alternative.