Frequent rainfall events in the past few weeks across most areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa have made many fields very wet at the start of the 2010 fall harvest season. At the University of Minnesota Research and Outreach Center  at Waseca, MN, a total of 4.38 in. of rainfall had been received as of Sept. 16, which is already 1.19 in. above normal rainfall for September. Total precipitation at Waseca for 2010 is now 34.34 in. – very close to the average annual precipitation for 12 months. Some locations in the region have had considerably more precipitation than Waseca during the late part of the growing season.
In addition to heavy rainfall, some areas also received some light to moderate hail damage on Sept. 15, which did cause some damage to soybean fields that were close to being ready to harvest. Soybean harvest  should begin on a full-scale basis in many areas, once field conditions are fit for harvest. Most growers are hoping for sunshine and a drier weather pattern in the next few weeks in order to achieve favorable harvest conditions.
Most corn has now reached physiological maturity – black layer – and has begun to dry down in the field. Corn is usually at 30-32% moisture when it reaches back layer, and ideally growers like to see corn dried down in the field to 20-22% moisture, or lower, before they harvest the corn. This greatly saves on corn drying costs, and improves the quality of the corn being harvested and going into storage. Corn is usually dried down to a final moisture content of 15-16% moisture for safe storage until the following summer. Corn will dry down about 0.5%/day naturally at an average daily temperature of 60° F, which increases as average temperatures rise, and will decrease as temperatures drop below that level. At Waseca, the normal daily average air temperature in September is above 60°, but that drops to about 48° during October.
In 2009, a large amount of corn remained at 25-30% moisture – or higher – throughout the harvest season, resulting in very high drying costs and poor-quality corn at harvest. The 2009 corn crop also had low test weights, well below the normal test weight of 56 lbs./bu. for corn. It appears that in most areas, the 2010 corn crop will be much drier coming out of the field, should be much higher quality and should have much improved test weights, compared to the 2009 corn crop.
Another concern with the 2010 corn crop in some areas is stalk quality and strength. Some corn was damaged by strong winds and hail back in June, leading to weaker stalks and late-season development of stalk rots. Some agronomists also feel that the very warm growing season, which caused the corn to mature quicker than normal, may have also lead to weakening of corn stalks in some corn hybrids across the region. Growers in affected areas should be monitoring their cornfields for potential problems, and adjusting their 2010 harvest schedule accordingly.
Safe Harvest Season
The week of Sept. 19-25 is National Farm Safety Week,which is very good timing as we enter full-scale fall harvest for the 2010 growing season. Farm Safety Week is a good time for farm families to review the farm safety procedures in their farm operation. More farm accidents occur during the fall than at any other time of the year, and usually involve one or more farm family members. Special care should be taken with children and senior citizens around farm and grain handling equipment, as these groups are the most vulnerable to farm accidents.
Interestingly, 51% of all farm accident deaths involve farm tractors, with rollovers being the most common type of tractor accident. Farm buildings and structures account for 11% of farm accident deaths, usually involving grain bin suffocation or being overcome by silo gas. Other primary causes of farm accidents include combines, haying equipment, farm trucks, augers, PTO drives, skid loaders, overhead electric wires and farm animals.
The non-farm public also needs to pay extra attention when driving on rural roads during harvest season, especially before and after work or school. Farm vehicles are larger and move much slower than cars, and the autumn sun is usually in a bad position during the heaviest traffic in the mornings and late afternoon on rural roads throughout the fall. The best advice is to slow down, pay attention and stay off the cell phones while driving.
For more details on fall farm and rural safety tips, please go to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture  website.
Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at [email protected] .