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Farmers already in the fields for ultra-early harvest

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Brothers Dave (in combine) and Dale Bullerman work in tandem harvesting corn in a field Friday afternoon south of Adrian.

WORTHINGTON -- Several loads of new crop corn were delivered to New Vision Cooperative elevators in southwest Minnesota Thursday, but yield reports have been rather slim as farmers begin to combine end rows and move into full-scale harvest mode.

Dan Uttech, New Vision's grain division manager, said harvest has been very spotty thus far, but as the corn crop continues to dry out, combines will be rolling in fields across the region in the coming days.

"The corn is physiologically mature," said Uttech.

Loads of newly harvested corn delivered to New Vision on Thursday had moisture contents ranging from 17.5 to 23 percent, which Uttech said is "just unheard of at this time of year." In an average year, moisture levels for the first week in September are generally in the 30 percent range.

In his 35 years of farming, Ron Luitjens of rural Brewster has never harvested corn this early. He began combining on Wednesday, and by Friday morning had completed an 80-acre field.

"We got enough to dry for the day," Luitjens said Friday afternoon, after spending the morning combining corn that averaged about 24 percent moisture.

Luitjens is running the corn through the dryer, which is better than waiting and seeing the crop fall from the stalk.

"We'd been kind of watching (the crop) and the droppage was minimal," he said. "The stalk is showing some stress from the dry conditions. If we get a big wind, it would sure make a mess."

Luitjens said he plans to be back in the field again on Monday. By the end of next week, Uttech anticipates the corn will be down to 20 percent moisture.

"Last year we saw a crop that matured early, but not quite as early as this year," Uttech said. "There was a lot of field loss in both corn and soybeans last year because it just got too dry in the field before farmers could get it all harvested."

This summer's drought has had a major impact on both corn and soybeans. From cannibalized kernels on corn ears to aborted pods on soybean plants, farmers now have to worry about field loss as plants just aren't healthy enough to hang onto the crop.

"Rather than put the strength into a stronger stalk and a stronger shank that holds the ear to the plant, it's putting everything it has into making kernels on that ear. By doing that, it basically weakens the rest of the plant," Uttech said.

"The corn plant is trying to do what it's made to do -- to make as much corn as it can."

"With the stress that we've had due to the lack of moisture, you just have a weak corn plant out there overall," he added.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, released Tuesday, showed most of Nobles County in an extreme drought, with the far northeast corner of the county still listed in the severe drought category.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Crop Weather report, also released on Tuesday, showed 88 percent of Minnesota's corn crop had reached the dent stage or beyond, compared to 57 percent a year ago and 55 percent for the five-year average.

"This is the first year I can remember that basically everyone could go out and harvest corn today," Uttech said. "We could have 40 to 50 percent of the corn harvested before the beans here in southwest Minnesota."

Liz Stahl, University of Minnesota Extension crops educator, said corn yields will likely be all over the place. So far, she'd heard reports of 75 to 180 bushels per acre, but the higher end figure was an estimate based on a crop of corn that was chopped for silage. Farmers generally hope for corn yields of at least 200 bushels per acre.

Luitjens said his yield monitor was "all over," ranging from 0 to 150 as he combined his corn rows this week.

Soybean harvest is on pace to begin in about 10 to 14 days, and those yields are also expected to be quite variable.

"In some areas, the (soybean) plant looks like it's ready to harvest and other places are still green," said Stahl. "Differences in soil types are really showing up this year within the field."

"We sure need some rain --I wouldn't mind stopping the combine for some rain. Mother Nature, she dictates what we get," added Luitjens. "We're still fortunate in this area."

To access resources for grain storage and drying, Stahl encourages farmers to visit

As for the remainder of the harvest season, Uttech said all of New Vision's facilities are ready and set up to take wet corn.

"We'd just like to wish everyone a safe and successful harvest," he added.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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