Harvesting corn and soybeans at the end of a growing season that began wet and ended in drought conditions presents challenges.

Timely harvest always is key, particularly in a year when cloudy weather, late-season heat and drought conditions have stressed corn plants in some fields to the point of cannibalizing themselves for the sake of grain fill.

These stressed plants are more vulnerable to weakened standability. Fields showing reduced stalk strength should be harvested first.

DuPont Pioneer offered harvest recommendations for these current conditions and concerns in its October “Walking Your Fields” newsletter. Besides timely corn harvest, here are some considerations for reducing harvest loss this fall:

* Two kernels of corn per square foot equals one bushel per acre loss;

* Run the combine engine at its rated rpm;

* Use a ground speed of about three mph;

* Close the stripper plates only enough to prevent ears from falling through;

* Ears should be snapped near the upper third of the snapping roll;

* Too much harvest loss also can affect next year’s crop with excessive volunteer corn;

* Be sure to measure harvest losses and make any necessary adjustments to reduce them; and

* Be proactive in reducing combine fires by washing equipment, installing drag chains and carrying a fire extinguisher on the machine.

Pioneer also listed some considerations for reducing soybean harvest loss. Minimizing soybean harvest losses can mean substantially higher yields and profits.

Good harvest practices can reduce losses to nearly 3 percent or one to two bushels per acre, while delayed harvest or poorly adjusted equipment can result in losses of 10 percent or greater. Harvest soybeans when they first reach 13 percent to 14 percent moisture.

As harvest is delayed, the loss of saleable weight due to lower moisture can be substantial and harvest losses also increase. Four soybeans per square foot are equal to one bushel per acre.

Harvest losses should be checked in front of the combine, behind the header and in back of the combine to pinpoint causes of loss. Stop the combine and back up 20 feet and examine losses in the standing soybeans, behind the combine and 5 to 10 feet behind the standing soybeans.

Count the number of soybeans in a specified area to determine where the yield loss is coming from. When harvesting soybeans that have lodged, it may be necessary to make adjustments during harvest to reduce losses.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following:

* Decrease ground speed to 2.5 to 3 mph;

* Position the cutter bar as close to the ground as possible;

* Angle the pickup fingers on the reel back slightly to more aggressively pull the lodged plants to the cutter bar. Reduce the angle of the fingers if the plants are riding over the top of the reel;

* Run the axle of the reel 9 to 12 inches ahead of the cutter bar;

* Operate the reel as low as necessary to pick up lodged plants without causing them to ride over the top of the reel. Raise the reel if this happens;

* Consider installing vine lifters on the cutter bar if plants are severely lodged;

* If the plants are badly lodged in one direction, operate the combine in the opposite direction;

* Try increasing the reel speed in relation to the ground speed. This sounds easy, but it can be challenging to find the correct ground speed and reel speed combination in lodged beans having brittle pods. If the ground speed is too fast in relation to the speed of the reel, the cutter bar will ride over some of the plants. If the reel speed is set too fast in relation to the ground speed, the reel can beat the beans out of the pods. The reel should run 25 percent faster than the ground speed under ideal conditions. For a reel with a diameter of 42 inches, this is 10 rpm at a given mph. However, if the soybeans are lodged, increase the reel speed incrementally up to a maximum of 50 percent faster than the ground speed if necessary. In lodged conditions, try running the reel at 11 rpm at a given mph. If the cutter bar still is riding over plants and the reel is not beating the beans out of the pods, consider increasing the speed of the reel to 12 rpm at a given mph. If the reel is causing shattering, decrease the speed of the reel just to the point that the shattering stops. If the cutter bar begins riding over lodged plants, you will need to decrease your ground speed;

* Finally, try to identify the cause or causes of the lodging. The most likely causes are high populations, low potassium soil test levels and variety selection. Soybean varieties differ in their susceptibility to lodging — consider this characteristic when selecting varieties.

Though the type of equipment used can influence harvest loss, all equipment must be properly adjusted and carefully operated to minimize loss. Consult equipment manufacturer specifications for proper adjustments and combine settings, the newsletter concluded.