Sound decisions ease harvest load

One used combine was all Jim Facemire figured he needed to harvest 2,000 acres, plus some custom work. He still felt that way on Labor Day. But by Oct. 1, everything had changed.

He was heavy on soybean acres. Due to a combination of late planting, the coolest July on record, and a wet, early fall, he was still staring at all those soybeans Oct. 1.

The Edinburgh, Ind., farmer and his son, Ryan, who also farms, put on their thinking caps. With each day that passed, they explored more ideas. Finally, they decided this might be the year to lease a second combine.

“We checked the numbers, but it seemed like a lot of money to lease a machine,” Jim notes.

Another option was buying a second used combine. Thanks to an equipment rep, they located a carbon copy of their own combine, except it didn’t have a corn head.

Key Points

• Look ahead and make quick decisions when crisis looms.

• Extra combining capacity took sting out of long, wet harvest.

• Super-sized wet holding bin paid for itself quickly.

Plan ahead

“We figured corn harvest would be slow going because corn would be wet,” Ryan says. “We wouldn’t be able to keep up with a second combine. But we needed help on soybeans.”

So they bought the combine. When a four-day window finally opened, they harvested half of their acreage. Then wet weather returned. On a rainy, dreary Halloween eve, it looked probable soybeans might still be in the field in January.

The math was pretty simple: 50-bushel soybeans would become 40-bushel soybeans harvested on frozen ground or in the mud. Dock for low quality might run $2 a bushel. If running the second combine meant they only had 500 acres in that pickle instead of more than a 1,000, then: 500 times a 10-bushel loss times $10 per bushel equals $50,000, plus a $2-per-bushel loss times 40 bushels times 500 on the remaining acres for quality discount equals another $40,000, for a grand total of $90,000. Game, set, match — a 100% return on investment!

As it turns out, Mother Nature sent an Indian summer, and the Facemires finished their soybeans by mid-November. But they figure the second machine went a long way toward paying for itself. As it was, they didn’t finish shelling corn until after Thanksgiving. And one hybrid was already badly lodged.

“Plus, it came in handy the day our original machine broke,” Ryan says. “We simply switched corn heads.”

The original plan was to resell the second machine. After seeing how valuable an extra combine can be, they’re re-evaluating that strategy.

Big wet bin paid

Don Villwock, Edwardsport, Ind., also saw the handwriting on the wall. He found a reasonable lease offer on another combine, and went that direction. But it was his jumbo-sized wet holding bin that paid handsome returns this year.

Forced to relocate his farmstead so a utility company could build a new generating station, Villwock put together a new grain system two years ago.

“At the time I thought we probably went overboard by including 24,000 bushels of wet bin holding capacity,” he recalls. “I was all smiles every time I looked at it this fall. It played a big part in helping us finish as quickly as we did. We could shell when otherwise we would have been forced to wait.”

Villwock isn’t ready to recommend everyone invest in such a large wet holding bin. But at the same time, his isn’t for sale!

Silver lining to a moldy corn crop

If you didn’t harvest moldy corn in at least one field this year, odds are you know a neighbor who did. And if not, count your blessings. Ear molds, especially diplodia and gibberella ear rots, caused havoc in parts of the Midwest. Now that corn is out of the field, what comes next? Do you simply wipe last year away, or are there lessons you can take from what was perhaps the toughest corn harvest since 1972?

There’s no way to know if ear rots will cause problems next year, notes Kiersten Wise, a Purdue University Extension plant pathologist. Fungal diseases are heavily dependent on weather conditions. A cool, wet summer and fall created the “perfect storm” in many areas this year, especially for gibberella.

“There are at least three things you might consider before next season,” Wise says. “First, if ear mold was severe in a field, rotate out of corn in that field, even if you had planned to come back with corn. It can take two to three years to get these organisms down to low levels.”

Second, review tillage choices. “If tillage is an option on your soils, consider it,” she notes. “Anything you can do to encourage breakdown of the residue in infected fields will help.”

If you no-till, there are tools that leave most residue on top, yet mix in soil and start decomposition more quickly than it would occur otherwise.

Third, look at hybrid selection carefully for the future. “The only good thing about this year was that seed growers got an excellent look at which hybrids have more resistance to molds,” Wise notes. “There is no complete resistance available at this time. But there’s a wide range in how susceptible various hybrids are to the disease.

“Talk to your seedsman, and make notes on which hybrids withstood it better than others,” Wise says. “Keep that in mind when you’re planting corn in fields where you know you had ear mold problems.”

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SEEING DOUBLE: These two combines could pass for twins. Jim and Ryan Facemire found a combine exactly like the one they already owned when they added a second machine this fall.

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THE ENEMY: Ear molds created havoc in many areas this past fall. Take steps to lessen your chances of battling these tough customers in 2010.

This article published in the January, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.