As the seasons change, there are just certain things that we come to expect. For me, fall is all about colorful leaves, sweatshirts, and cute boots. Of course, it’s also the season for harvest.
But while harvest just seems like a part of fall, I realized this past week that not everyone knows exactly how long it takes to bring in our crop. After sharing a post about what happens over the course of harvesting, someone asked how long it actually takes to combine our crop – she thought we were able to do it all in one day. It might seem crazy to us, but for people that aren’t regularly part of the process it certainly isn’t obvious.
So, how long does harvest take on our farm? About 2 months.
We have about 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. The average speed of the combine is 4 miles per hour. We are able to pick between 50 and 75 acres of corn in one day, or 100 acres of soybeans in one day. We usually combine 10 to 14 hours on a warm, dry day, but we’ve been known to go longer (4 a.m.!) to avoid adverse weather conditions.
Yield is a huge factor in how fast it takes us to finish. Obviously, the higher the yields, the more product there is to transport. This is precisely why we can get more soybean acres done in one day – the soybean yields are considerably less than corn yields. Our combine can hold about 300 bushels. Once it’s full, we have to unload either into the grain cart or the semi-trailer.
Along with transporting the bulk crop, we deal with storage issues. We have limited on-farm storage, mostly so we can dry the crop before taking it into the granary (you can read more about what that means here). Drying takes time though, so that can cause delays once all of the storage is full and we have to wait for the crop to dry (not so much an issue for us anymore, because we have upgraded our drying system this year). Getting each load to the granary takes time though, and if all the storage is full, then we have to stop picking and wait.
We also have the problem that we have to move our equipment…a lot. In some parts of the country, fields are usually quite large. Unfortunately, in our area, the opposite is true. We have some fields that are as small as 10 acres. Practically speaking, that means we have to move equipment from one field to another quite often. In most cases, that means we have to unhook the corn or soybean head to travel down the road to get to the next field. Once in the field, it takes a little extra time to “open” the field and get it started. It just takes time and slows us down.
Even with all of that, there are other factors that can slow us down unexpectedly.
Weather is a huge factor, especially for soybeans. When it is wet – either from rain or dew – we aren’t able to harvest because the pods will soak up moisture. When the wet pods run through the combine, they won’t pop open and release the beans. As a result, unopen pods can spit out the back of the combine. Wet pods also make it hard for the soybean head to work properly.
Breakdowns also occur and stop everything. If something on the combine breaks, we may have to wait for new parts to be ordered. If it’s really bad, we may even need a repairman to come out to the farm, though we do most of our own repairs. We spend a lot of time in the spring and summer on equipment maintenance so we avoid these problems in the fall.
The time it takes will vary for each farm, especially as those farms are located in different parts of the country. But for our farm, that’s how long it takes and why.
(Thanks to Pro-Science Mama for the question!)