As seen in Illinois AgriNews on September 18th 2015

The dry, warm weather in August has quickly matured crops, and it won’t be long before combines start rolling. For optimum yield potential and labor efficiency, growers can use five factors to evaluate their fields and establish a smart harvest-sequence schedule.

  1. Overall plant health

Developing a harvest strategy starts with looking broadly at each field’s overall plant health. Some trouble-free fields can withstand a little drydown, depending on prior nitrogen management and drainage. More likely, however, given the wet spring and summer, many growers will face highly stressed plants and will need to assess nutrient availability. Performing a “lean test,” to see if the stalks will bend or buckle, and cutting a stalk open, to identify the level of viable inner pith, are two nutrient-assessment options. To maximize yield, fields with weak stalks and ear shanks need to be moved to the top of the harvest schedule.

  1. Relative maturities

With a handle on plant health, growers can evaluate each field based on the hybrid’s maturity level. Fields with early-maturing hybrids that have flex or semiflex ears tend to lose dry matter the longer they stay in the field. Growers can capture more yield by harvesting those hybrids earlier at a higher moisture content and managing them when they’re in the bin.

  1. Disease pressure

A field’s disease tolerance also influences its priority in the harvest sequence. Growers may have implemented planned treatment programs throughout the season or found themselves in a rescue-treatment situation, trying to stop a disease’s progress. Regardless, growers can identify the fields that are still under intense disease pressure and move them up in the sequence. 

  1. Crop rotation

Growers with fields in a first or second year of corn-on-corn rotation should likely move those fields up in their harvest schedule as well. Crops in the second year are more susceptible to disease and lower stalk integrity. So, taking them off sooner will increase yield. 

At the same time, fields in the first year of a continuous-corn plan should also be a harvest priority, as part of a good yield strategy for 2016. In this scenario, harvesting while the weather is still relatively warm—above 50°F—gives soil microbes more time to break down and mineralize the crop residue for nutrient uptake next year. Applying a postharvest ammonium sulfate prior to tillage can also add a nitrogen boost. All of this is especially critical for corn plants following corn.

  1. Cover-crop potential

Using cover crops through the fall and winter can also affect a grower’s harvest-scheduling decisions. They need to consider which fields will have cover crops, how they intend to plant them (flying vs. an on-ground rig), and their tillage strategy. Typically, growers will have a higher level of success the earlier they harvest fields intended for cover crops.

In the end, growers who apply all five of these factors to their harvest-sequence planning are better prepared to maximize yields this growing season, and are in a better position to execute a smart yield strategy for 2016.

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