Maquoketa, Iowa, farmer Adam Miller, 47, said he is nervous. Winter is around the corner, and crops remain in the fields. Miller and his sons, Tim, 22, and Jacob, 13, finished harvesting their farm’s 300 acres of soybeans Thursday.
On Friday, Miller expected to finish harvesting the 25 acres of ear corn he uses to feed his cattle.
After that, the family will finish harvesting the 400 acres of shell corn he planted.
They are a good month behind thanks to a cool wet summer and fall that slowed the growth of his and other area farmers’ crops.
To wrap up this year’s harvest, Miller, who is the fourth generation to plow the family’s farm, said he needs “15-20 good days. Not rainy days.”
The past week or so has been perfect for harvesting, he said. No rain with a good mixture of sun and wind helped to dry out the fields — and the grain.
Still, Miller said, “I’m nervous. Every day that’s nice is a blessing. But we’re in a hurry. Odds are it’s going to turn to winter, soon. I get a little less nervous as we get things done.
“If it stays like this, I could be done by the end of the month. I’m looking at finishing somewhere in December if we get normal rain.”
The good spate of weather in the past two weeks has allowed farmers throughout Iowa and Illinois to harvest from can see to can’t see — from the first rays of dawn to the last flicker at dusk.
As of Nov. 8, 69 percent of soybeans had been harvested in Illinois. The week before only 35 percent had been harvested, according to the Illinois office of the National Agricultural Statistic Service, or NASS. Also, 31 percent of corn had been harvested throughout the state, while 19 percent had been harvested by the end of the week before.
Last year in Illinois, 78 percent of the corn had been harvested by this time, while 94 percent of the soybeans were harvested.
Iowa farmers moved along at a similar pace with 83 percent of the state’s soybeans harvested as of Nov. 8 compared to 54 percent the week before, according to NASS. Corn harvested reached 34 percent in Iowa compared to 18 percent the week before.
Last year at this time, Iowa’s farmers had harvested 96 percent of the soybeans and 59 percent of the corn.
In Rock Island County, Taylor Ridge, Ill., farmer Tom Mueller said most if not all of the bean fields in his area have been harvested.
“Mother Nature is actually helping us a little,” Mueller said. “People made real progress on the bean harvest, and a lot of people finished. I don’t see too many bean fields still out.”
Corn is another matter, however, he said, adding, “I may have to put Christmas lights in the cab of my combine.”
The corn has been so wet that many farmers are limited in their harvest by the capacity of their dryers, he said.
Mueller said it is mind boggling how late harvest is running this year.
“Usually, it’s just the slackers that aren’t done with harvest by now, or the guys who are farming 10,000-plus acres,” he said. “There’s not but a handful of people in the area I know who are on the downhill side of their corn crop, more than halfway done.”
Everyone else, he added, still has more than half their corn crop to harvest.
With the growing season so poor and the harvest coming so late, some farmers are questioning whether this year’s corn and soybean crops will meet the USDA’s estimates.
The USDA is predicting farmers will produce 12.9 billion bushels of corn and 3.32 billion bushels of soybeans. Last year, America’s farmers produced 12.1 billion bushels of corn and 2.97 billion bushels of soybeans.
Mueller said he questions whether the 2009 estimates can be achieved.
“The problem is with the quality,” he said.
Darrel Good, professor of agriculture and consumer economics at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, said he thinks the USDA numbers are achievable.
“The November corn-yield forecasts for corn were five bushels below the October forecast in each state, and that should be enough of a decline to reflect the problems associated with a late harvest,” he said. “The Illinois soybean harvest was late, but I think avoided substantial deterioration.
“In general, yield reports I hear have been quite good for both corn and soybeans. The crop condition ratings at the end of the season actually pointed to a slightly higher U.S. average soybean yield than forecast by USDA. The key for soybeans may be the crop in the Southeast where excessive rain has been a problem.”
Miller said that based on what he sees in the field, beans are slightly below expectations, but corn will be well below expectations.
Corn is already indicating a low test weight, he said, because the actual kernel of corn did not finish correctly because of the cool summer and fall.
Test weights have been around 54 pounds of corn per bushel, Miller said, adding that 60 pounds per bushel is good.
“You need a lot more bushels to get the same amount of corn,” he said, adding that he thinks the USDA estimates will change. “If we had gotten the heat units we needed, it would have been a giant harvest.”