View From the Cab

What do Farmers Harvest First: Corn or Soybeans?

Pamela Smith
By  Pamela Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Chandra and Mike Langseth are counting down the moisture in anticipation of corn harvest, but beans will likely be taken first on their North Dakota farm. (Photo courtesy of Chandra Langseth)

DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- Soybeans call shotgun on Chandra and Mike Langseth's harvest schedule. The Barney, North Dakota, farmers almost always start the harvest season with soybeans and follow with corn.

This week, some 600 miles to the south, Tina, Missouri, farmer Zachary (Zach) Grossman was preparing to swap out the corn head and take the first swipes at soybeans. He's not finished with corn and was hoping to have a bit more in the tank before switching to beans, but that's not the way the crop is drying down this year.

There's no hard-and-fast rule about what crop gets harvested first. In general, it has more to do with it being ready. But when there's a coin toss, soybeans are more prone to harvest losses, noted Mike Langseth. "Or, said another way, corn can hold in the field longer. We don't have a real big harvest window in this part of the world, so soybeans generally get priority."

The Langseths and Grossman have been reporting in this season as part of DTN's View From the Cab series. The diary-like feature covers crop conditions and other aspects of rural living. This is their 21st article and much like the rest of the season, rainfall -- or lack of it -- continues to be a theme.

"Dad likes to say that we got a 2-inch rain," Mike said. "Two inches between the drops." DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said both areas could see showers during the weekend, but the system has some erratic movement to it. "Models are still unsure about where it will go next week, but for the most part, it will be leaving the Western Corn Belt drier this week.

"Another front will try to move into the Northern Plains late next week and that could produce some rain in Barney, but again, not a huge chance or confidence in that. If we can trust the long-range forecast, we might be looking at better storm, and rainfall chances, during the second half of October," he said.

Read on to learn how harvest prospects are shaping up for the two farms, why soil testing goes beyond the need to assess fertility needs for 2024 and efforts to make harvest more efficient through improvements.


If Grossman could order a 1-to-2-inch rain, he'd do it and not give a second thought to the fact that it is harvest time. "It wouldn't slow us down long. We're dry enough a rain would soak right in and it would sure help our pastures," he said.

Ironically, despite the dry soil moisture conditions, low humidity and some 80-plus temperatures of late, the corn crop has been slow to dry down.

"We keep opening fields that are teetering at or just below 20% and then, find ourselves backing out because the corn is just a little too wet. We've been able to keep moving by jumping from field-to-field," Grossman said. "But it has been hard to find whole fields dry enough."

Although the corn crop was drought-stressed during the season, plant health remained relatively good. When the area received 12-inches of rain in a two-week span in early August, he wondered if it caused the plant to mature differently. "It's been a big topic of conversation locally that despite good drying weather, corn is not drying down like you might expect," he reported.

Grossman farms with his father, Curt, and brother, Trent. "Our running total average yield on the acres we've shelled so far is falling somewhere between 150-to-160 bushel per acre (bpa). "We've already seen a 100-bpa yield swing from our worst field to our best field and those variabilities are directly related to soil type," he said.

"But our best corn is yet to come, and we still have over half our acres to shell," he added. Test weight has been averaging 56 to 60 before adjustment for dry down.

Switching to soybeans during corn harvest is a common practice in this part of Missouri. "When the beans are ready, you go get them. Corn will wait on you. Soybeans won't," Grossman said. "When we get done with beans, we'll go back to corn."

One thing that helps this year is the addition of on-farm storage with forced air drying. "We're lucky to have Ray-Carroll (a farm cooperative) within 15 miles of our farming operation and they are great to work with. But having the flexibility of not making that drive and being able to manage moisture is going to nice," he said. More storage space is on his wish list for the future. This year is the family's first foray into seed production and Grossman likes the thought of finding ways to add value to the crop by using management and attention to detail.

On the cattle side of the business, Grossman will wean calves around Nov. 1. "I've been able to rotate pastures and keep things going. My outlook on grass is I've got about a month left without another shot of rain," he said. "But I'm thinking ahead and knowing we're going to need moisture to get those pastures to recover."


The memory of the 2018 harvest still sends a chill through Mike Langseth. A 10-inch snowfall fell on Oct. 8 and stuck around for the remainder of harvest. "That year we learned that 17 to 18 degrees above is the magic temperature to blow snow through a combine. Get above those temps and you start making snowballs inside your combine," he said.

"It's also a lot easier to combine corn with snow on the ground than it is soybeans," Mike added.

The possibility of winter closing in early encouraged the Langseths to do more than keep their coats at the ready. They added a second used combine and more recently, another 40-ft. MacDon draper head to the harvesting lineup. "I did quite a bit of shopping and found one that needed a little work, but the price was right.

"We decided two used combines were better for our situation where we are trying to stretch every bit of the harvest season we've got. Corn is usually physiologically mature when we start soybean harvest, but it still has a lot of drying down to do. If soybeans are 13%, it is only a few days before they are too dry, and you are giving them away."

The soybean pod is held together by a tough seam called the pod "suture." It can withstand normal wetting and drying. However, the more wetting and drying cycles the pod goes through, the weaker the suture becomes as beans swell and push the seam.

"When the beans are ready, it's time to go get them, in my book. We are maybe overcapacity a bit for our size on our harvesting

capability. But I'm comfortable running updated 9- and 10-year-old combines. If one goes down, I've still got a decent amount of capacity left. And we generally have extra help early in the season to keep two combines moving in soybeans," he added.

A few farmers in the area have started to harvest soybeans, but the Langseths are a week or so away, they figured.

The college semester is cooking along for Chandra, who in addition to helping on the farm, teaches agronomy and precision agriculture courses at North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

She also does a lot of the crop scouting for the farm. Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) once again reared its head and they saw a few breaks of late-season waterhemp. "It was a buggy year here, but nothing really reached threshold for us," she said.

This week reports of a "mystery moth" were circulating through the state. It's the adult moth of the green cloverworm, which is a common pest here. They migrate into the state in June and have several generations. The moths are no threat to crops at this stage of their lifecycle but are annoying because they are widely stuck to windshields, Chandra said.

The heavy clay, dryland soils they farm have mostly given up for the year. Chandra is concerned that soybeans on those acres are exhibiting some signs of premature death which will likely ding yields.

She will begin to pull soil samples as soon as harvest is complete. That could bring some interesting clues to next moves, given the droughty conditions they have experienced this year. "We're continuing to evaluate our fertility system," Chandra said. "We currently flat rate all our fertilizer, but a few years of data from zone sampling is giving us more answers. A dry year might make it a bit more interesting.

"We've also tiled more ground and that changes our yield potential and makes all the management we do more important. Before 'wet' was the limiting factor," she added.

Soil sampling is a yearly activity. Last fall, dry conditions made the chore a challenge as she couldn't get the hand probe to penetrate in some soils. "I left those few until spring, but I really like to get all the sampling done in the fall so we've got the numbers to buy fertilizer and make less rushed decisions," she said.

One focus for the farm has been soybean cyst nematode (SCN) testing. "The North Dakota Soybean Council sponsors some testing and that's been super nice," she said. "We feel strongly about keeping on top of our numbers and knowing what we are dealing with on our farm.

"We know SCN is the leading cause of soybean yield loss. But one advantage of being in a northern location is that we can often see problems developing in other areas and take steps to keep it at bay here," she said.

"SCN is very easy to ignore, especially since many issues that are obvious with more obvious treatments. Take waterhemp for example," she suggested. "I can see where we didn't have good control and have options to do better next year. Same thing with insect pests. But the below ground nature of SCN and the fact symptoms aren't always visible may make it seem less urgent to some.

"But, when I look at the maps of how SCN has spread across the country and the yield losses associated with it, the agronomy nerd in me just has to pay attention to that," Chandra said.

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Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith
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