May 20, 2024

Back from the brink: Corn growers gear up for harvest

Ryan Gentle

DECATUR, Ill. — As they look to the impending harvest season, farmers anxiously hope their crops were able to withstand the summer drought.

Ryan Gentle, Wyffels Hybrids agronomy manager for central and southern Illinois, shared his thoughts and advice on harvest at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur.

How has this growing season been?

We thought we had a great season started out. You know, April, we got a lot of corn in the ground, conditions were great, and then we turned cold. We did get it out of the ground, eventually. Then we all know what happened in June.

We had the worst drought, actually. We’ve kept weather records, in Illinois at least, for 131 years. And in my little section in west-central Illinois, around Canton and Macomb, it was the driest June out of 131 years on record. It was drier than 2012, drier than 1988.

I don’t think guys realized actually how bad the drought was in June. Luckily, we had some pretty good subsoil moisture going in. And I think hybrids now — it’s just a credit to the whole industry and the breeders.

I talk to a lot of people that remember 2012 pretty well. We wouldn’t be staring at 200-bushel corn right now in 2012 with the hybrids we had. There’s no way with that little rain. A lot of guys are 40%, 50% of their normal rainfall that they usually get.

What kind of seed should I consider for next season if I’m particularly worried about drought?

We try and make a full package now. There is a DroughtGard trait out there, but it really only protects you for about 10 days to two weeks during pollination, gives you a little better water use efficiency and hopefully help through that most critical stage of pollination.

But we’ve got natural genes now that we’ve developed through corn breeding that are just as good as that trait, maybe even better for a full-season time frame. So, some of our newer hybrids we feel are very good on drought tolerance.

How does the corn crop look as we head into harvest?

The cool drought, I think, helped us a lot there through June. Literally, in my area, we were days away from disaster. We were starting pollination. We needed water, and we needed it bad.

It came in the form of a derecho, which is never great. You don’t like flat corn, but it was flat corn or no corn, basically, at that time frame for us.

Then we lucked out. Things got a little more normal in July. And we actually have a super, disease-free canopy in most cases. You can find spots, but not a lot of tar spot, not a lot of gray leaf developed this year. So, a lot of those fields are fairly healthy finishing out here.

What should farmers be doing right now?

I would encourage farmers to get out in your fields, push some stalks. We are finding a few hybrids that are kind of nitrogen hogs that maybe didn’t handle the heat quite as well, that are firing a lot worse or cannibalizing trying to finish out.

So, do the push test. Make sure you got good stalk integrity. If you’re finding some stuff that isn’t holding up when you push it, then move that to the beginning of your harvest list.

When do you think harvest will get started? Will it be early, normal or late this year?

Toward the middle of September, I would say, for your normal-sized operator. A plug for our Growing Degree Unit Calculator, you can go on our website,, under the agronomy tab, and plug in your planting date, the hybrid you planted and it’ll give you a black layer estimate within two or three days. That’s been pretty accurate.

What other advice would you give to corn growers this fall?

Probably the next thing after I’ve kind of determined my harvest order is hopefully I’ve already been through my combine, but if I haven’t, make sure you have all your settings, look at your manuals, make sure you know how to run your combine or where to start out with settings.

Make sure your trucks and everything are ready. You don’t want to have downtime when you get started.

And then we also have a Grain Drying Calculator on That’s a very handy tool, too.

What kind of benefit have you seen from harvesting early and then drying the grain?

In our research that we’ve done, it shows from starting at 25 versus letting it dry to 15 you’re losing about two bushels per point, from 25 to 15. So, you can get to 20 bushels pretty fast. And that, you know, can pay for some drying costs.

Sometimes, you end up waiting until 21, 22 and before you know it you’re at 14, especially the big guys. I mean, they have to get started earlier.

What should farmers look for this fall and keep in mind as they make decisions for planting next spring?

I always encourage guys to keep a notepad and paper in the combine with them. That’s your best time to scout. That’s the ultimate scouting trip.

Note if you see some lodging. Note if you see ear drop, tops blown out, just several things you can keep track of other than just what the yield monitor kicks out.

A lot of times, there might be some oddity in there, where you know it’s a wet hole that, especially if you just have a side by side, you want to note that so you don’t kick that hybrid out of bed. It might be the best one on your farm on both sides of the wetland. Take notes on that type of stuff.

You say you’ll remember that, but when you’re sitting in December, trying to put your order together, it’s easy to forget those things. And that can skew what you want for next year.

James Henry

James Henry

Executive Editor