Harvesting lodged crops

Farm Forum

As farmers wait for wet weather to clear and dry conditions to return so they can continue or in some cases, begin harvesting, they are also seeing some of their crops lodge.

Grain sorghum, sunflower and corn can all suffer from stalk problems, and lodging. The most common cause of lodging is weather related; rain, wet soils, high winds, and in some cases, snow. Soil compaction, limited root development and lack of plant vigor can also be factors.

Early harvest is recommended to avoid problems with lodging, but there was a large amount of fall crop and early moisture interrupted harvest well before it was completed.

One school of thought is to harvest standing crops first. These may be better yielding, harvest will go faster, standing crops will field dry quicker, and you would want to get them before they begin to lodge.

Lodged crops may best be harvested with equipment choices and/or modifications, and technique. If the crop is planted in rows, a row crop head may lift lodged stalks enough to get them into the machine. There are reels that can be mounted on corn heads to help pull material into the combine. Crop lifters can be attached to the sickle bar of most combine flex or straight heads and improve harvesting efficiency for both row planted and drilled or solid-seeded sorghum or corn. These will not work well for lodged sunflower. Check with your implement dealer to make sure these attachments will fit on your model of combine. Innovative farmers have also developed their own modifications, with varied success, but sometimes damaging their equipment (see the Sept. 1998 article in “The Sunflower” magazine: http://bit.ly/GY9fLG).

Lifting the lodged crop is preferable to shaving the ground. Not only do you run less material through the combine, but you are likely to leave more residues attached by the roots, and standing for snow catch. Running less plant material through the combine can save fuel and wear on the combine, allow faster harvesting, and with sunflower, less danger of fire.

Equipment choice and/or modifications alone will not maximize harvest efficiency of lodged crops. Recommendations are to travel slow, and choose the optimum direction of travel. If wind was a significant factor in the lodging of crops, the majority of plants may be lying in one direction. This situation may allow harvesting in two directions by traveling perpendicular to the direction the plants are leaning or lying. The best results may be obtained by harvesting in one direction, likely at an angle against the direction the plants are lying, and “deadheading” back for the next pass. If the lodging is more random, as might occur with severe stalk weakness, the direction of travel may not matter.

Some crops may be standing in water or in very wet soil. These crops will certainly be best left until other fields or areas have been harvested. There will certainly be opportunities to harvest these areas when the ground is frozen, even if part of the day. When these are the only crops left, producers will need to determine whether it is worth taking the risk to harvest them, or wait for the water to leave, the wet soil to dry and/or the ground to freeze. Operating equipment on very wet soils is known to cause soil compaction. If doing so, minimize the weight by limiting the amount of grain carried by combines and grain carts, and keep trucks on roads and field borders. If you are not able to harvest all of the crop, grazing is another option, and particularly useful for corn if the ears fall off the plants.