A “frustrating, hellish, wet marathon” is how Michigan ag commodity leaders are describing the 2019 harvest.
Already, state corn, soybean, dry bean, sugarbeet and potato producers are sifting through a laundry list of challenges — from untimely weather to soil compaction. Now, ag leaders wonder if their member-growers will be compelled to leave product in the fields as cold temperatures and precipitation continue to slow harvest progress.
Theresa Sisung, associate field crops specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, says producers are dealing with one of the most challenging harvest years to date.
“The rain that plagued us this spring has come back to haunt us this fall, and, unfortunately, the challenging conditions could lead to more problems in the spring,” Sisung says. “Compaction and the inability to access fields for fall maintenance could cause some challenging conditions for the 2020 growing season.”
Here’s a snapshot of the harvest season, through the lens of the commodity leaders:
Corn growers getting ‘anxious’
A messy 2019 planting season is turning into a messy harvest season, says Claire White, outreach manager for the Michigan Corn Growers Association and Corn Marketing Program of Michigan.
“We are having issues with rain and moisture making it hard to get into the field to harvest,” White says of the grassroots membership and checkoff organizations. “Harvest continues to be slow. Our growers are becoming anxious to get in the fields.”
Because of the wet conditions, White says corn harvest is only 10% to 20% complete, compared with the normal 51% five-year average. She says there’s concern for soil compaction, which will “carry over into the spring for many growers.”
“There also is a concern with the grain quality as growers are going to have to dry down the corn and core their bins earlier than anticipated,” White adds. “We urge [growers] to monitor storage closely to avoid any mold issues.”
Yields for this year’s crop are surprisingly good for some growers, White says, “as the growing year was not ideal.” However, she says some corn is running a higher moisture content than normal because of late planting.
“It doesn’t look like natural drydown in the field will happen this year,” White says. “The early-planted corn is what has been taken off at this time. Some growers will wait longer than normal to get their crop out of the field with hopes that soil conditions will firm up.”
She wouldn’t be surprised if “some of the corn crop was left in the field.”
Soybean harvest picture not pretty
If Janna Fritz could paint a picture of the soybean harvest, the only color she would use is gray.
“Gray, of course, illustrates the color of the Michigan fall season day in and day out,” says Fritz, executive director of the Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee, a grower checkoff organization. “Some growers report dark, bleak yields in the 20s and 30s [bushels per acre]. Others are surprisingly bright, with high 60s and even some 70s. In the end, we believe the statewide yields will end up below average.”
There are other problems, Fritz adds, including saturated soils leaving large areas of the state behind harvest dates. She puts soybean harvest completion at 65% to 75%.
“We have high moisture contents and lower test weights, but that is to be expected from the growing season,” Fritz says.
Depending on how the season progresses, she says some soybeans will be left in fields until the ground is frozen.
Dry bean quality good
Despite planting late, Michigan Bean Commission Executive Director Joe Cramer says this year’s harvest is more than 90% complete.
“While very challenging, quality is very good,” Cramer says. “The bulk of the acreage remaining in the field was planted very late due to wet conditions at planting time and likely includes a significant percentage of our organic production.”
Sugarbeet harvest delays
According to USDA’s latest crop report, sugarbeet harvest delays are common. Crop progress is about 55% complete, which is down from 72% at this time last year.
“There were 1.9 days suitable for fieldwork in Michigan during the week ending Nov. 3,” writes Marlo Johnson, director of the Great Lakes Regional Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. “Mixtures of heavy rain and snowfall were common occurrences in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula.”
The Michigan Potato Industry Commission reports that the state's growers still have close to 5,000 acres of chipping potatoes in the ground. Kelly Turner, executive director of Michigan Potato Industry Commission, says some growers already abandoned 3% to 7% of the potato crop, and “with the forecasted freezing temps, there may be more.”
“This week’s weather will be a huge determinate for those still trying to bring in the harvest,” says Turner, noting the crop’s yield is expected to be average or above average in some parts of the state.
“Having received just shy of 14 [inches] of rain since Sept. 1, all of the state's growers experienced delays and issues related to the rain,” Turner adds. “The mid-Michigan belt seems to have been particularly plagued by the wet weather and has been set back 10 to 14 days. The delay now creates more of an issue as growers continue to fight wet, snowy weather.
“With freezing temperatures forecasted in the coming days, 5% to 10% of the total chip crop may have to be abandoned.”
And for those who are in the mid-Michigan belt, she says growers could experience a 10% to 13% loss. Currently, 85% to 90% of the harvest is complete.
As growers continue to handle poor weather amid the final harvest days, Turner worries the quality of the crop — which currently is high — will start to diminish, creating a pathway for disease. It’s “hell,” Turner says of the current harvest situation.