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Serving: IA

Iowa crop harvest ramps up

combine in cornfield Rod Swoboda
GRINDING ALONG: Don Van Dyke was harvesting slowly in this downed cornfield a week ago, picking up stalks and ears.
Corn harvest is now 12% complete statewide; soybean harvest is 30% complete.

Iowa farmers took advantage of last week’s warmer and drier conditions to increase the pace of their 2020 corn and soybean harvest. Corn harvest has reached 12% complete statewide, almost three weeks ahead of last year. Soybean harvest is now 30% complete, 19 days ahead of last year. USDA’s weekly statewide survey as of Sept. 27 shows northwest Iowa leading the state in harvest progress.

In areas of Iowa where corn was knocked down by the ferocious August derecho windstorm, corn harvest is underway, but progress is slow. Harvesting a field of corn that was mostly lying flat on the ground last week in Poweshiek County in east-central Iowa, Don Van Dyke was driving the combine at only 1.5 mph most of the time. He was trying to pick up the flattened stalks with the corn head. Sometimes the machine had to crawl along at only 0.5 mph to get the downed cornstalks and ears to feed into the combine.

Slow-going in downed corn

Broken stalks on the ground are free to push forward by the corn head. They want to float in front of the combine rather than enter the header. “By driving slowly, we do a better job of getting the snouts under the stalks, lifting them into the corn head,” Van Dyke says. “That results in more of the ears going into the header and more corn in the grain tank, instead of leaving ears in the field where they’ll produce a volunteer corn headache next year.”

This fall the farm harvested one field that yielded 150 bushels per acre. “In a normal year, it would have hit 200 bushels per acre,” Van Dyke says. “The derecho windstorm hurt a lot of fields. But I think the continued drought is what really hurt our corn yields the most, by holding the yields 50 to 60 bushels below normal.”

“Over the past week, Iowa saw mostly warmer and drier conditions, allowing harvest to continue across the state,” says Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig. “Now, a shift in the weather pattern has brought cooler temperatures, with forecasts indicating the possibility of the season’s first frost later this week.”

The complete weekly Iowa Crop Progress & Condition report is available on USDA’s site at

Crop report

Harvest showed rapid progress as Iowa farmers made the most of 6.4 days suitable for fieldwork during the week ending Sept. 27, according to USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service. Field activities last week also included drilling cover crops, applying fertilizer and manure, and conducting fall tillage.

Topsoil moisture condition, as a statewide average, is rated 15% very short, 31% short, 53% adequate and 1% surplus. Subsoil moisture is rated 21% very short, 34% short, 44% adequate and 1% surplus.

Corn was 97% in or beyond dent stage in Iowa as of Sept. 27, over two weeks ahead of the previous year and three days ahead of the five-year average. Only 18% of Iowa’s crop has yet to reach maturity, three weeks ahead of last year and nine days ahead of average. Corn harvest for grain reached 12% statewide, almost three weeks ahead of last year and nine days ahead of average. This is the highest percent of corn harvested for grain completed by Sept. 27 since 2012, when 48% of the crop had been harvested. Corn condition is rated 42% good-to-excellent.

Soybeans in the coloring stage or beyond advanced to 96% statewide, which is two weeks ahead of last year and one week ahead of average. Iowa’s soybean crop as of Sept. 27 was 85% dropping leaves or beyond, 16 days ahead of last year and eight days ahead of average.

Soybean harvest is now 30% complete, 19 days ahead of last year and 12 days ahead of average. This was the largest percentage of Iowa’s soybean crop harvested by Sept. 27 since 2012, when 41% had been harvested. Farmers in northwest and west-central Iowa continue to lead the way with almost half of their 2020 soybean acreage now harvested. Soybean condition is rated 47% good-to-excellent.

Pasture condition is rated 20% good-to-excellent, an increase of 3 percentage points from the previous week. Livestock felt the effect of changing temperatures. Low levels of water in ponds and creeks have made providing water for cows on pasture a challenge for some producers.

Weather summary

Widespread dry conditions persisted through the last full week of September, although measurable rain was reported at stations in northern and eastern Iowa. “Precipitation deficits were under an inch at most observation stations,” says Justin Glisan, state climatologist at the Iowa Department of Agriculture.

Unseasonably warm temperatures blanketed the state with the warmest conditions in northwest Iowa, as positive departures from 8 to 10 degrees F were reported. The statewide average temperature was 66.6 degrees, 8.4 degrees above normal.

Rainfall totals for Iowa for the week ending Sept. 27 ranged from no accumulation at many Iowa stations to 1.15 inches near Cresco (Winneshiek County). The statewide weekly average precipitation was 0.06 inch, while normal is 0.75 inch. Clarinda (Page County) reported the week’s high temperature of 95 degrees on Sept. 25, which is 23 degrees above normal. Fayette (Fayette County) had the week’s low temperature of 35 degrees on Sept. 21, 8 degrees below normal.

U.S. soybean harvest leaps ahead

Looking at the national crop picture, USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report issued Sept. 28 shows corn and soybean conditions are virtually unchanged from a week ago. But harvest pace has picked up, especially for soybeans.

As of Sept. 27, the survey shows 15% of U.S. corn is now harvested, versus a 16% five-year average. Iowa is ahead of its five-year average and Illinois is running behind. Iowa has 12% of its corn out of the field, compared with a 5% five-year average. Illinois has harvested 13%, versus its 24% average.

USDA’s estimate of corn with a good-to-excellent rating is 61% nationally, equal to a week ago. Nebraska corn harvest is 14% complete, versus a 10% five-year average. USDA estimates corn in the top 18 producing states is 75% mature, ahead of the 65% five-year average.

The U.S. soybean harvest has jumped ahead from just 6% harvested the previous week to 20% as of Sept. 27, which is ahead of the 15% average. In Iowa, 30% of the soybean crop is out of the fields, well ahead of the state’s 8% five-year average. In Nebraska, 29% of the soybeans have been harvested, versus a 13% five-year average. In Illinois, 11% of soybeans have been harvested compared with a 16% five-year average.

USDA says 74% of the U.S. soybean crop is dropping leaves, versus a 69% five-year average. The U.S. soybean crop has a 64% good-to-excellent rating, 1% better than a week ago.

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