Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harvest - The Corn

My earlier Harvest Post this year had to do with our cherry trees and that was back in July.  Yield per acre may have been on par with our corn, I don't know.  I do know that our now much reduced (from the former 75) area of 12 acres of corn produces a lot more total bushels than our two cherry trees did and those acres were harvested faster than I was able to glean the cherries from the trees.  Trucks were not required to carry our cherries "to the bin".

Today was the 2013 corn harvest and it was as exciting this year as it has always been for me.  Lucky for me it happened on the weekend and during the daylight when I was actually able to see it all happening.  I used to be a much more involved participant with the fall corn harvest, both for farmers I worked for as well as for the farms in our family.  Now I only watch......and photograph the action while others get to do all of the fun stuff.  I sorely miss being more directly involved however; being outside around the equipment, watching the bins getting full and experiencing the temperature and weather extremes all contribute even now to making the fall harvest the most special time for me.

This is the only hard maple on our acreage and it's in our yard.  In a matter of 20 minutes the distant standing corn will all be gone.

The cropland on our 20 acres is split almost in half by our famous dry run ditch that serves as a drain for the valley.  All of these photos are on the house side of the ditch.  The 12-row corn head has to be disconnected and moved separately from the combine itself due to the width.  A later photo will confirm, videos at the end.

Breaking open the first outside 12 rows.

The grain buggy tagging along behind the combine (and dust cloud) to be ready for the first hopper dump.

12 rows cut quite a wide swath in behind the barn.  This pattern repeats; rows 4 and 5, then 8 and 9 get smashed down from the combine wheels, the other rows remain standing at a height slightly below where the ear grows on the stalk.

Up the valley.....

The 'business' side of the grain buggy.  The hydraulic ram pivots the spout out for unloading.  I'm not all that much taller than these tires.

Ready to take another bite......

One that got away and there aren't very many.......our over abundant population of deer won't let this go to waste.

The trailer dedicated to carrying the wide corn head.

Just on the other side of the harvested corn are many acres of prairie grass, some private, some belonging to the State Park.  Beyond the trees is Lake Pepin, the wide spot in the Mississippi River and the shear bluff faces are neighboring Wisconsin.

The last of it on the house side of the dry ditch.....

Dumping into the buggy is an intermediate step.

Filling the truck.....

Dropping the head onto the trailer, a nuisance to move 100 yards to the other side of the ditch.

The 'headless' drive to the other side.....

and reconnecting......

They used to arrive with 18 wheel tractor/trailer rigs when we had 75 acres of tillable land.  Now the straight trucks can handle the harvest.

And finally over across the ditch (the grassy green), the other, less oddly shaped 6 acres.  12 acres soon done, home in time for dinner with a late afternoon start, even with the hook-up issues due to the nuisance ditch crossing.

And the action shots....


  1. Oh how the harvest and the machines have changed over the years.

    1. It truly has changed. Not very long ago, this size of equipment would have only been seen on the plains, on flatter, more even ground where the farms have in more recent times at least, been much larger. Slopes, uneven ground and oddly shaped corners in fields make operating the huge equipment a challenge. Long before I was around, my grandfather, being critical about his sons' work schedules "the horses never head headlights". A lot of round the clock harvesting goes on these days.

  2. Cool! So at this point, the corn is dry? The fields look pretty brown…

    1. Please excuse my ignorance. I grew up in Los Angeles and corn doesn't do well in Alaska.

    2. The answer regarding "dry" could get very technical. Dryness and maturity of the kernels are two completely different things; the dry being relative. Able to be harvested, the technically perfect amount of moisture that makes an official bushel (~15%) of 56 pounds, the percentage that the local elevator will buy it at without docking for excess moisture and finally the moisture level at which the corn can be stored long term are all very different and potentially make the difference between growing corn as a hobby or for profit.

      The combine has onboard measuring abilities, able to check real time yield, moisture content, etc. The horseshoe shaped field that surrounds our buildings where these photos are all taken from was giving moisture readings of between 19 and 23 percent.....south side of the valley, north slope. Across the ditch is the south slope, moisture readings were lower over there.

      Drying is very expensive, an unbelievable amount of propane is required to get moisture out. When the delta moisture between what's harvested and what can be sold is small, passively blowing air through the bin rather than heating the air can work.

      Over drying is not only expensive in fuel costs, but means that a certain volume of corn is being 'given' away based on a 56 pound bushel. I used to feel like an alchemist mixing various moisture levels from bins; the perfect level of wet/dry the goal.

    3. Thank you for the explanation. I never realized that it was so complicated.

      If the moisture level is too high in storage, will it start to mold or something?

    4. Yes and it doesn't take much. Short periods can tolerate slightly wetter, long term has to be quite dry.

  3. It's about high time for bringing the corn in as well in the Black Forest. The machines they using over here are smaller, I am thinking partly because otherwise you wouldn't be able to maneuver them over the smaller roads we have here.

    1. You are right Sonja, it isn't just the roads but the efficiency of moving around in tighter spaces in the fields. These hills and valleys are full of evidence that when worked with horses and/or much smaller equipment, tillable land worked further up the slopes in the valleys and drifted down over the sides on top. 30' of planar tillage or harvesting machinery doesn't yield well to concave or convex shaped seedbed.

  4. Wow, that is a lot of corn. Is it for people, or animal feed, or re-seeding? I didn't realize some corn was harvested so late. I've never seen anything but the ears being picked.

    Thanks for all the pics and video clips too.

    1. We don't eat or consume directly much of this corn. Corn for seed is harvested with different methods. The majority of the corn goes to ethanol production and residuals from the distilling process. Animal feed is next in line and we export a bunch of it. The corn we think of frozen, in a can or on the cob is a different variety and isn't picked as shelled corn. Sweet corn gets harvested by the ears and isn't shelled in the field but rather in a processing plant.

  5. ". . . being outside around the equipment, watching the bins getting full and experiencing the temperature and weather extremes all contribute even now to making the fall harvest the most special time for me." Yep. I'm convinced experiencing the temperature and weather extremes is a big part of what I enjoy about riding. It's really hard to explain that. Either one gets it or one doesn't.

    Yes, big change in equipment. We took corn out with a two row corn picker back in the day and stored the ears in corn cribs. Long ago, now.

    What's up with the ditch? Any improvements in the works and do we have more adventures to look forward to?

  6. Hey Keith, you're right about the weather and 'getting it'. There was a mid-November day and I was out plowing, trying to get a field finished on a G900 Moline, no cab. It had started to snow slightly, it was already too late to get home for the 10PM News. The heat coming back from the motor and up from the warm transmission was keeping me warm and my eyeglasses clear. A few more rounds, then a couple of passes to clean up the dead furrow and the 3 mile trip home at a safe, casual pace in road gear on roads that were getting greasy. I finished, beating something that wasn't really a contest and the sense of magical satisfaction that I felt that night will stick with me always.

    No real change with the ditch, other than a new(er) big tool to deal with the snow this winter. After last year's flood, part of the top layer of slab washed away. I repaired that, patched it really and our fingers are crossed. Snow predicted tomorrow night and now I need to get the snow fence up.