Harvest progress buoys farmer optimism

The 2020 harvest is a welcome departure from the two previous years

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Ontario’s 2020 harvest is a pleasant anomaly in a year of uncertainty and disruption.

Farmers in fact are cautiously optimistic based on progress so far with a harvest that’s shaping up to be earlier and easier than the past few years. A week of rain in mid-October is putting some dampers on what had been solid soybean and corn harvest progress.

The 2020 Ontario soybean crop looks to be a good one. Corn has escaped significant disease pressure although frost hit before some reached maturity, raising test-weight questions.

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Why it matters: With good prices and largely good quality crops, harvest 2020 might be a welcome change from the less-than-ideal experiences of 2018 and 2019.

Soybean growers in more central parts of the province were able to make significant harvest progress prior to rain events in early October, says Horst Bohner, soybean specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Overall, yields have been reported at or above average.

“Prices are fairly good too, so that’s kind of a nice combination,” says Bohner. “The middle of October is a nice window to get beans off and the wheat in. It would set us up well.”

There were some downsides to early harvested soybeans, however, particularly in areas where August rainfall was lacking.

“Things were so dry in some areas they sometimes came off at 10 per cent moisture and there were still some green seeds. But it had to get done. Overall quality was still reasonable.”

Dale Cowan, senior agronomist and sales manager for AGRIS Co-operative and Wanstead Farmers Co-operative, reports soybean harvest rates generally range from five to 35 per cent completed.
photo: iStock/Getty Images

Dry conditions, and an early frost had many farmers quickly into the field combining soybeans. Tough stalks and green beans slowed some down, but others were able to harvest the healthy crop.

Bohner reiterates moisture-related issues, where they have occurred, harken to lessons from 2018. Specifically, how early dry spells in June and July drives root growth, and August rains bring better seed size and pod set.

“All the worrying we do in June and July about it being dry is not the right way to think about soybean health and final yield, if the moisture comes.”

East – short harvest windows, quality silage

The impacts of growing season moisture variations are evident in different regions of eastern Ontario. Paul Sullivan, agronomist and owner of P.T. Sullivan Agro Inc, says soybeans yields are ranging around

35 to 40 bushels in lighter soils, and 55 to low 60s in heavier soils.

But only a small portion of the overall crop has been harvested at the time of this writing. Overall, anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent are off, depending on the area.

“Really there wasn’t much harvest done the week before [the beginning of October],” he says. “There was a pretty small window of harvest. There wasn’t a whole lot of beans ready before then.”

Sullivan says corn silage yields are down to approximately 80 per cent of the norm, but quality is high. In terms of kernel moisture, they’re seeing a lot of numbers in the low 30 percentile.

“There’s a bit of corn creeping down where there wasn’t as much dry weather stress”

Southwest: The best soybeans will come at the end of the harvest

The range of soybean harvest completion is wider in the southwest, with many growers finished harvest and others partly done.

Dale Cowan, senior agronomist and sales manager for AGRIS Co-operative and Wanstead Farmers Co-operative, reports early, shorter soybean season varieties were harvested first and yields ranged from low 40 to mid 60 bushels.

“Wheat planting is keeping pace with soy harvest. The best beans have not yet been harvested. I expect we will see some 60 to 70 plus bushel yields, although frost damage is a bit of concern,” says Cowan, adding a drier forecast should also help reduce the amount of green stem which slowed early harvest efforts.

Very little corn has been harvested yet, but many farmers are switching from soybean to corn heads on combines and starting their corn harvest while they wait for dryer weather for soybeans. Cowan says there is not yet enough information to get a good feel for yields, though reports range are 113 bushels in areas which had little rain, to 210 bushels in those that did. OMAFRA sources also confirmed wide ranges, and that sufficient data is not yet available.

There have been some surprises, including greater than expected (though isolated) damage in some corn fields from mid-September frost events. This has resulted in low test weights and high moisture (29 to 30 per cent) in those areas.

“Heat unit accumulations would have suggested this corn should have black layered on-time and have lost significant moisture prior to harvest. I noticed the week before we had some low night temps below 4 C but above zero . That may have slowed crop growth and recovery,” says Cowan.

“Once a plant loses its green leaves it loses a mechanism to reduce whole plant moisture which slows the dry down. These fields will be at risk for lodging.”

Some ear rots are also beginning to develop, though with seemingly low severity. A true assessment will be delivered by OMAFRA’s DON survey sample collection, taken at the end of September and set for publishing in the coming weeks.

Cowan reiterates harvest is no time to forget about other agronomic duties – particularly weed management.

“I know there is a fatigue developing because everywhere a farmer goes, or in every zoom meeting someone is talking about resistant weed management. We cannot weaken or take our eye off the issue. The weeds are not listening.”

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Matt McIntosh

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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