PITTSBURG — With predictions of more rain this week, area farmers have been working to harvest as much of their corn as they can.
“They’ve been hitting it pretty hard for the past week,” said Wildcat Extension District Crops and Soils Agent James Coover. “As soon as it started to dry out, the moisture got low enough for them, they’ve been out in the field.”
A lot of corn has already been harvested, Coover said, but there is also a lot that is not yet ready to harvest.
“And so really there’s almost like two corn crops this year, and one was the corn planted mostly on time, the short season stuff, and then there was some corn that was planted later as well that’s still kind of green, that still has a ways to go,” he said.
Coover said the corn harvest this year has been surprisingly good considering this year’s weather.
“The corn that we’re harvesting now, it actually looks pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been asking a few farmers and it sounds like their yields are actually a little bit better than they expected. And I’m suspecting — I don’t have any specific numbers yet because they’re still out there harvesting — but it kind of looks like our yields might be a little higher than the average, which was really kind of surprising.”
Good yields this year are particularly surprising because area farmers had a tough start to the growing season.
“The germination wasn’t very good, the fields kept getting flooded out, and there were a lot of misses, and so even though it looks good from the road, once you get above it, the corn, you can see there’s lots of areas that didn’t get good germination, and so there’s a lot of blank spots here and there within the fields,” Coover said.
“However, it kind of made up for it that we really had a good grain filling season, and so once the rains started to space themselves out basically a little bit, and it really started to get hot and dry we had some good thermal units during the right time with some great periodic rain, so in the grain filling period we started doing pretty good weather-wise during that period, and surprisingly enough the diseases were a little bit lower than I expected.”
Area farmers still had some problems to contend with, however.
“The one thing though this year, the fertility was a little bit harder,” Coover said. “I mean corn needs a lot of nitrogen. It’s a very nitrogen-intensive crop, because you’re making a whole lot of plant really quickly. And the denitrification happens in years like this one, where you have constantly wet soil, but then you have some dry periods, and then more saturated soil, so we end up losing a lot of our nitrogen that we put on.”
Coover said harvesting corn as late as some farmers will be this year is also unusual.
“So most years, this is the beginning of the corn harvest, I mean the beginning of September is kind of when we start to harvest the corn, so that’s not abnormal,” he said. “I mean sometimes we can even start a little bit earlier than that depending on how hot and dry it’s been, but what’s abnormal is harvesting corn all the way into mid- to late october. So that’s the odd spot that we’re kind of looking at this year.”
As a result of lots of rain in the spring, “harvesting is going to be a lot more spaced out this year,” Coover said. “So we continued to plant corn all throughout the spring season, and some people, they planted corn and then it got washed out so they replanted it, which was almost a month later. And so for the stuff that was planted all the way into June, almost into July, I mean that stuff’s late in comparison to what we normally are dealing with.”
Coover said in Southeast Kansas, farmers should still be able to harvest their corn before it gets too cold. “But there are other parts of the state where they’re actually kind of worried that they’re not going to get there corn finished in time before the first frost,” he said.
Coover also said that rain will not necessarily ruin corn that is ready to harvest now.
“Ideally speaking, if it’s dry, you want to get it off the field for sure,” he said.
“For the stuff that’s going to get rained on that could have been harvested, there’s not a whole lot of it, and it’s not good on it, per se, but it won’t really hurt it as much either. I mean we’re not expecting a huge deluge tomorrow,” Coover said Wednesday. “We’re just kind of expecting a little bit of rain, and hopefully it will kind of dry back out again and they can get into it in the next couple of weeks.”
Area farmers often plant wheat around mid-October, “and so for the guys that are getting the corn out now, they’ll get everything, their field conditions and their nitrogen and all that ready and set up for their wheat going into October,” Coover said.
“So we’ve got a lot of stuff to do. And cover crops go in this time of year too. And cover crops actually go in pretty much right after the corn comes off, because you want to get those up and growing as much as possible, especially the guys that are going to graze it, and so there’s never really a down time, per se. They’re harvesting corn now, they’ve got cover crops and wheat to plant, and then we’ve got soybeans to harvest later too, and so we’ve got a lot to do until the first hard freeze, for sure.”
After harvesting corn, planting cover crops can help with weed problems, among other benefits, Coover said.
“It helps with a number of other environmental things, it helps control soil erosion, the soil microbiome, and nutrient cycling, all sorts of different things,” he said.
Many different crops can be used as cover crops. “The list is dozens long, honestly,” Coover said.
Cover crops will be one of the topics discussed — along with pasture fertility and weed control, rotational and strip grazing, and the economics of grazing — at a Sept. 28 Southeast Kansas Grazing School event, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Fort Scott, sponsored in part by K-State Research and Extension. For more information visit https://www.wildcatdistrict.k-state.edu/events.html