This article was originally published in the September issue of Illinois Field & Bean. View the article here.

Harvest has always been a crowd favorite. Whether it’s the humid heat of summer being replaced by crisp, autumn air, or the end of year holidays peeking out on the horizon, harvest tends to bring with it a sense of happy endings. But as any farmer knows, the work doesn’t stop even after the crop is out of the field.

In fact, as farmers wrap up in the field and park the combine in the machine shed, there are several things should be evaluated and assessed in order to continue managing the farm efficiently and remain profitable. Were there any new management practices implemented that raised concerns? How well did that new seed treatment work to protect seeds from early season diseases? Was there a particular weed running rampant in your region that needs to be addressed? Or maybe a new fungicide was applied that should be assessed for effectiveness?

Here are some overarching items to start the assessment process when conducting post-harvest field evaluations:

Grain Quality

It’s important to pay attention to grain quality at harvest to evaluate new and existing practices implemented each year. Did you notice a change in grain quality due to fungicide use? If the soybeans were planted earlier than usual, was there any shattering present? Note any major grain concerns such as moisture, frost damage, and insect damage. Depending on weather conditions during planting and throughout the growing season, the actual magnitude to disease infection during those months usually reveals itself in the fall. Pod abortion, reduced pod fill, seed stains/molds and compromised stem quality may lead to poor harvestability. Keeping detailed records can help prepare for a more successful season next year.

Field Resource Concerns

Be sure to check for any field concerns, such as weeds or erosion, that may require new practices to be implemented.

“The two main ways to prevent erosion are by reducing soil disturbance through no-till or reduced tillage and by maximizing soil cover with crop residues and/or cover crop,” says Stacy Zuber, USDA-NRCS State Soil Health Specialist. “The purpose of both is to build and protect stable soil aggregates. Providing soil cover is important because the living plants and plant residues are able to deflect the force of a raindrop falling onto bare soil. It may be hard to imagine, but when raindrops fall on bare soil, each impact can dislodge soil particles from the surface that are able to runoff and cause erosion.”

“As far as weed control, cover crops have proven to be effective, especially in providing an additional tool when dealing with herbicide resistant weeds. For this to work, a higher seeding rate and/or later termination of the cover crop is needed to provide enough biomass to cover the soil surface and provide shade that prevents weed seeds from germinating. Because you need a uniform stand of cover crop to effectively provide a mulch layer over the entire soil surface, using a drill to plant the cover crop might be more effective than other planting methods to provide that consistent growth,” adds Zuber.

Evaluate Yield Maps

Look at yield maps not only for field inconsistencies, but to compare varieties, hybrids, planting dates, and trends of fields with different maturities, genetic packages, and input programs (e.g. chemical, fertility, etc.). The amount of information collected can be overwhelming. Work with your field agronomist or Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) to help you best utilize and evaluate all your data on the farm.

Evaluate Financial Statements

One of the most important evaluations farmers should make once the crop is out of the ground is their financial statements. Precision Conservation Management (PCM), a program brought to farmers by IL Corn and the Illinois Soybean Association, combines precision technology and data management with farm business and financials to help farmers manage, adopt, and adapt conservation practices long-term and improve on-farm decision-making.

The program aims to help farmers implement conservation practices and integrate financial data to help them understand how certain management changes can impact both their environmental impact and their bottom line. PCM Operations Manager Clay Bess suggests that farmers evaluate how their corn responded to the applied nitrogen rates at the end of the season, and to look at pesticide costs, particularly herbicides and fungicides, and consider if the number of trips and products were worth the dollars spent.

“These are things, fertilizer and pesticides, that farmers and I discuss regularly during PCM report deliveries to contemplate reducing rates of either or both,” says Bess.

Grain Marketing

Needless to say, grain marketing is likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about post-harvest priorities. To help make the best decisions, consider local supply and demand conditions for grain, assess market prices, be realistic about your storage costs, and determine your appetite for risk.

Curt Strubhar, Risk Advisor for Advance Trading, Inc., suggests that there is still a great deal of uncertainty in the grain markets.

“While there is never a time when there isn’t market uncertainty, today’s level is historically high. For corn and soybeans both, the Northern Plains and Minnesota had severe droughts early in the growing season. Minnesota received some relief in July while the Dakotas largely remained dry,” says Strubhar. “Can good crop yields in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio offset those losses to still produce a trend line crop, or are the price bulls right in suggesting U.S. corn yields will be seven to 10 bushels below trend?”

Strubhar adds that in terms of demand, China remains key, and that domestically, ethanol production has rebounded from the 2020 COVID slowdowns but still has some judicial uncertainty with several key rulings this summer.

“Net of that uncertainty, we advise using commodity options heavily in one’s marketing portfolio. They protect against this uncertainty by letting producers protect against risk of lower prices but allow producers to participate in higher markets should they be realized.”

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About the Author: Claire Weinzierl

Claire Weinzierl joined the Illinois Soybean Association as Communications Manager in October 2020. In her role, Claire manages the content needs of ILSoyAdvisor, serves as a staff writer for ISA’s publication, Illinois Field & Bean, handles any communications surrounding biodiesel, sustainability or conservation, in addition to focusing primarily on farmer-facing efforts. Hailing from Stanford, IL, Claire earned her bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University in 2018 where she double majored in Journalism and Agriculture Communications & Leadership. Claire went on to earn her Master’s in Business Administration with a specialization in Business Analytics from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2020.

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