December 04, 2023

Focus on completing soybean harvest during warm, sunny October days

MAPLE PARK, Ill. — Steve Pitstick started harvesting soybeans about a week later than he planned this year.

“Part of that is due to the later than normal start in the spring and we had a cloudy, somewhat cool summer,” said Pitstick who farms about 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Maple Park.

“The crops are not progressing as fast this year and sometimes that is good because it means we have a healthy crop,” Pitstick said.

“At this point I’m already mentally conditioning myself for a December harvest because we size our operation to try to harvest in 40 days,” he said. “If we have 10 wet days, then it’s seven weeks and seven weeks from now is Thanksgiving.”

Although Pitstick considered desiccating some of his soybean fields this year, he did not have time to fit it into his schedule.

“I talked to a few people that did,” he said. “It’s an option to increase your harvest days on the front side.”

Because of the shortness of days, one day in October is similar to three days in December to get the same amount of productivity, Pitstick said.

“That’s why we push so hard now and it doesn’t get any better than days like this that are sunny and dry,” he said. “The best feeling of fall is when the beans are done because there are only so many hours you can combine beans.”

Although it has not been a big deal, Pitstick has seen a little sudden death syndrome show up in his soybean fields.

“I did some testing for soybean cyst nematodes and they are fairly prevalent,” Pitstick said.

“I’ve also seen a little bit of white mold and it appears that is in the highest yielding beans,” he said. “Maybe the environment that is conducive to good yields is more conducive to allow white mold to happen, but I haven’t harvested those beans yet.”

Soybeans of other color is another issue that may impact some soybean growers.

“The Enlist E3 soybeans in some varieties have a seed coat coloring that is referred to by the graders as soybeans of other color,” Pitstick said. “The Enlist beans we’ve done so far have not had any blemishes, so we don’t know yet if it’s related to varieties or growing conditions.”

The coloring of the soybeans does not affect the quality of the bean.

“But they’re docking for that and some elevators are trying to segregate them,” Pitstick said. “The American Soybean Association is working on this issue with USDA.”

Some tar spot has shown up in Pitstick’s corn fields in the last 10 days. However, it is too late in the season to impact yield.

“I don’t know if the fungicide effectively held it off or the conditions weren’t right this year,” Pitstick said. “We haven’t seen the severity of tar spot here since the first year when it was really bad and caught us off guard.”

The corn stalk health is good.

“I know the corn rootworms are out there, but we haven’t had any storms to make us notice it,” Pitstick said. “But one good storm can change that.”

Pitstick’s grain carts are equipped with scales and he uses a cloud-based weight management system to track exactly how many bushels of soybeans or corn are harvested from each field.

“I import the field boundaries into MyJohnDeere and the scale system, and when the grain cart pulls into the field, it knows where it’s at,” he said. “That’s a pain point my grain cart drivers don’t have to deal with.”

The goal, Pitstick said, is to make the process frictionless.

“When I come to the field, my mission is to combine, not collect data,” he said. “But I have to collect data when I combine so it must happen in the background.”

Pitstick has on-farm storage capacity for about 50% of his crop.

“Today the soybeans are going to a local elevator and part of the decision is based on logistics,” he said. “It is easier to go to a close elevator than haul it back to a central facility because with the capacity of combines, we need to turn the trucks pretty quick.”

The low Mississippi River water level is a problem that some didn’t expect this year.

“That has limited drafts on the barges, which has increased rates and exploded basis at the river terminals,” Pitstick said. “So, there is no incentive to go to the river today.”

In addition, this could affect exports in the future if grain can’t get down to New Orleans.

“That’s one of the consequences of a drought,” Pitstick said.

Pitstick has a concern about drying costs for his corn with the higher energy costs.

“Some of our corn goes to commercial drying, and if the corn is 28%-plus moisture, the drying charges will be $150 to $200 per acre with the higher yields,” he said. “That’s a significant cost that we didn’t budget for.”

However, on-farm drying is different.

“We can buy tanker loads of LP gas under $1.25 per gallon because of the propane abundance,” Pitstick said. “But because of the world markets, natural gas seems to be higher.”

A couple of weeks ago, the Illinois Soybean Association hosted a group of South Korean soybean oil buyers.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to show them what we do,” said the chairman of the ISA. “Two of the individuals had never seen a soybean plant or how they grow, so it was an interesting day.”

Continuing to develop new markets for U.S. soybeans is important, Pitstick said.

“I think there’s a huge potential in India where there are 1.4 billion people,” he said. “If we could get one egg in the diet of everybody, that’s over a billion chickens that we’d need to feed, which is a huge demand potential.”

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor