Although we live in the heart of corn country, I think there is a lot of missed opportunity to inform those around us about basic terminology of farming during harvest time. No, I don’t think you are a dummy, I think it’s a great chance to ask questions and for farmers to educate.
We have many people in our lives who don’t know the basics of what farmers actually do. Although that is a loaded question because they do a lot, I will share basic terminology you will hear in the fall during harvest season to help gain a better understanding of the processes.
In Iowa we typically raise 3 crops. Corn, Soybeans, or Alfalfa (or Hay) you will occasionally see other crops as well. Most of the time the crops will rotate each year with corn one year and soybeans the next. Hay fields will usually stay for 3-4 years before a replant.
Harvest: is when the crops are gathered from the fields and taken to market or put into storage.
Combine: Very large and very expensive machine used to take the crops out of the field.
Auger: The Auger moves the corn from a wagon into the top of the bin and the bins are filled this way.
Auger Cart/ Grain cart/ wagon: The wagon is pulled behind the tractor and takes the corn off the combine and puts it in the bin or on the semi. Some wagons have built in augers to move the corn out of the wagon (auger cart) onto the semi or in the bin and others have a bottom unload (wagon) in which you unload it onto an auger and then into the bin or semi.
Bin: A place used to store the crops until they are ready to be sold to market.
Since the income for farmers comes once a year during harvest time, they can store the crops in a bin and sell them at a later date thought the year. They will sometimes “contract” certain amounts for a specific time frame locking in a price in which they know they are profitable. If the do not lock in pricing, they are subject to the open market.
Dryer: The dryer looks a lot like a bin in most cases but moves heat around the corn to bring the moisture level down. Corn is the only grain that is put through a dryer if needed. Corn moisture for harvest is typically 14.0 % -25% moisture. Typical desired storage moisture is around 15-17%. They use the dryer to get wet corn down to a more desired storing temperature to avoid spoilage.
What happens when it is harvested? Both corn and beans can be sold on the open market. For us that means taking and selling it to a local grain elevator (storage center- and they will re-sell to the processing plants) or direct selling it to the processing plants. Some of the corn may be kept by the farmer to be fed to livestock.
What do the processing plants do with it? They process it for fuel, food, beverages, animal feeds, oils, and much more.
What is different about soybean harvest and corn harvest? The combine it set different and has different heads to grab the crop and run it through the machine. The soybeans produce a lot less “bushels per acre” but also have a higher dollar value at market.
Moisture: Moisture is the level at which crops hold when harvested. Moisture is also mentioned under “Dryer.”
Bushels& Yields: Corn is measured at 56 lbs/ bushel and soybeans are measured at 60 lbs/ bushel. This means that every 56 lbs of corn= 1 bushel. Corn typically yields 160-220 bushels per acre and soybeans are 50-80 bushels per acre. They are typically sold in the wagon load or semi load. An average semi load will be about 1,000 bushels of corn when taken to market.
This may give a better understanding of the work behind harvest or maybe it confused you even more! In that case, drop your harvest questions below!