GRAND FORKS -- As North Dakota farmers gear up for the 2020 growing season, more than half of the corn they planted in 2019 still is in the field.
At the end of January, 51% or about 1.9 million acres of the corn farmers planted in 2019 were unharvested, according to National Agricultural Statistics-North Dakota. While most of the corn in Minnesota -- 93%-- was in the bin by mid-December 2019, thousands of acres in the northwestern part of the state still are unharvested.
Muddy, wet field conditions during the fall of 2019 resulted in a nightmarish harvest for farmers who got stuck with combines, trucks and tractors in their attempts to harvest. Meanwhile, the corn had high moisture content so it wasn’t cost-effective to dry it.
The situation hasn’t improved much during the past two months. Farmers have combined only 13% of the remaining corn acreage in North Dakota, since Dec. 1, the statistics service said. Some farmers who have tried to combine this winter have gotten stuck because fields still are soft. Early snows insulated fields and a blanket of white still covers them, so the frost depth in the Red River Valley is shallower than normal.
In late January, snow depths ranged from 6 to 12 inches in the southern Red River Valley, to 14 to 30 inches north of Fargo, according to the National Weather Service-Grand Forks. The frost depth in Grand Forks on Wednesday, Feb. 12, was 23 inches, the weather service said.
Corn farmers continue to face a daunting challenge, and some may feel like they are in a lose-lose situation.
Even if fields are firm enough to support equipment, some farmers have opted not to attempt to harvest them because the moisture content of the corn remains high. After deducting the cost of the propane required to dry the corn, farmers won’t make enough profit per bushel to make it cost effective.
Meanwhile, drying the corn artificially results in loss of test weight. A bushel of corn is discounted varying amounts if the test weight drops below 56 pounds per bushel.
Research shows corn which is air-dried weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds per bushel more than corn that is artificially dried, Joel Ransom, NDSU Extension agronomist told farmers this week at a corn meeting in Warren, Minn.
“You’re going to end up with a better test weight if you leave it in the field,” he said.
However, it takes corn longer to air dry in the field when temperatures drop, Ransom noted. The equilibrium moisture content of the corn -- the moisture level at which the grain doesn’t gain or lose moisture because it is at equilibrium with the relative humidity and temperature of the surrounding environment -- increases from 16% in October to 21% in January and February.
By April, the EMC drops back to 16%, but this year, fields likely will be too soft to harvest.
“If you’re going to harvest, now might be as good of a time as any,” Ransom said.
The good news is that, so far, the corn appears to have weathered the elements, he said.
“I think there’s yield out there, it’s just to harvest it and market it,” Ransom said.