The U.S.D.A. estimates up to six percent of the 2009 Iowa corn crop is still standing in the fields, amidst all this snow.
State Ag Secretary Bill Northey says you can run a combine through a corn field that has a couple of inches of snow on the ground, but the winter storm that swept through the state and dumped over a foot of snow in many places has put a halt to harvesting.
“You can certainly harvest on frozen ground. You can harvest with a little bit of snow. If it’s cold enough, it blows on through the combine. If it gets too warm, it goes ahead and melts in that combine and doesn’t let the mechanism run like it should,” Northey says. “But if you’ve got drifts like this where it’s up around the ears of the corn, that’s going to cause some real problems.”
According to the U.S.D.A., there’s about 800,000 acres of corn still standing in Iowa — and it’s worth about half-a billion dollars. Depending on weather conditions for the next few months, some farmers may not be able to reach their fields until spring. Northey says, generally, the quality of the corn won’t change much after the first snow flies.
“If folks aren’t able to get out to that field until spring, usually where the corn goes ahead and dries down and so areas where it was too wet, it’ll dry down. This cold weather will keep any mold from happening, but you are likely to lose some of that yield,” Northey says. “If you have high winds like we’ve had, that can knock the stalk over or shake the ear off. If you have drifts out in those fields and those drifts melt, they really melt down in a way such that it will either pull the stock down, or at least pull the ear off the stock, so likely whatever is out there, some of it will be lost.”
The exceptionally wet weather in October prompted some farmers to wait ’til the ground was frozen before driving their heavy combines through some of their corn fields. “In some cases where the ground was really wet, they had harvested the dry areas, but there was some wet ground they couldn’t get in, maybe some side hills that can kind of seep up water or some low ground,” Northey says. “And some of that got combined this last week or 10 days when we got that cold weather — before the snow came.”
Northey, who farms in northwest Iowa near Spirit Lake, got his crops out just before Thanksgiving. While there are pockets of corn still standing throughout the state, Northey says some farmers in southern Iowa “have more than their share” of corn that hasn’t been harvested.
“It can be a real challenge,” Northey says. “And the corn that’s out there now has to wait for the snow to go away before you can go back out to get it out.”
The U.S.D.A. estimates 9.5 million acres of corn has not been harvested yet in the U.S. U.S.D.A. experts peg the value of the corn crop that remains in American fields at $5.3 billion.