There is more corn still standing in North Dakota fields than there has been at this time since at least 2000.
The combination of a late, wet spring that delayed planting and excessive rains and snow this fall has meant farmers have been able to harvest only 1.26 million acres, or 36%, of North Dakota's 3.5 million acres of corn, according to National Agricultural Statistics-North Dakota. Since 2000, the only time there has been that much corn left to harvest at this time of year was in 2009, when 40% was harvested at this time of year. On average, 95% of the state’s corn is harvested by Dec. 1, the statistics service said.
“Leaving corn in the field over the winter is relatively common, but not on the scale we’re going to see this year,” said Joel Ransom, NDSU Extension agronomist.
Some farmers already have put away their combines for the year because it’s cost-prohibitive to dry the corn.
“Not all farmers have on-farm drying capabilities. They have greater motivation to leave it in the field,” Ransom said.
Leaving the corn in the field over winter can result in yield loss, though.
Stalk breakage from heavy winds and snow, deer depredation and ear drop are potential problems that can occur with unharvested corn, Ransom said.
“The other thing we worry about is ‘What does this mean for spring?' If you still have corn in the field, and you’ve got all that fieldwork to do, it will impede your ability to plant on time next spring,” Ransom said.
Larimore, N.D., corn farmer Tyler Stover has about 800 acres of corn still in the field, the most he’s ever had in early December. Like many other northeast North Dakota farmers, he can’t recall another year like this one.
“If it isn’t the worst, it’s close to the worst,” he said. “There have been a few years where we’ve left a little here and there. The most we’ve left is 120 acres. We harvested it in February. The corn had dried down. The ground was frozen at that time.”
So far this fall, the corn has been too wet to combine. Stover took a moisture sample of the corn before the early October snowstorm, and it was about 35%, more than double what it should be to store without risk of spoilage.
However, by late November, before the most recent snowstorm, the moisture content of the corn had dropped to about 21 percent, Stover said.
“We’re going to start picking away at it. We’ll start, if we can, tomorrow,” Stover said Monday, Dec. 1.
Whether he is able to combine will depend on whether Monday’s wind blew the snow from last weekend’s storm off of the corn stalks.
“If there’s snow on the corn stalks, that causes problems for the combines,” he said.
Stover is hopeful, though, that the wind on Sunday and Monday knocked the snow off of the stalks and he can wrap up the harvest before the end of 2019.
“Get it done with so I can make plans for next year,” Stover said.
Many farmers in northwest Minnesota are opting to leave the corn until next year, said John Swanson, a Mentor, Minn., farmer and a member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association's board of directors.
Though 91% of the state's 7.8 million corn acres were harvested by Dec. 1, most of the crop that is left in the field is in northwestern Minnesota.
“I’m hearing about 70 to 75%,” Swanson said.
Most of the farmers, including Swanson, who have unharvested acres plan to leave the corn until February or March in hopes it will dry naturally, said Swanson, noting he has about half, or 250 acres, of his corn in the field.
Drying the corn when it’s extremely wet doesn’t pencil out financially when the crop only is worth about $3.20 per bushel, Swanson said.
“There are a lot of guys who just said if it’s about 25(%), with the prices, we can’t afford to dry it and take the test weight shrink,” he said. “Hopefully, we have some freezing and thawing that dries it out.”