Iowa farmers combat adverse harvest conditions

Iowa’s corn harvest was 43 percent complete as of Nov. 4. At that time last year the harvest was 69 percent complete. The five year average is 72 percent complete, higher than both this year and last year.

Amber Friedrichsen

Midwesterners know that when the leaves begin to fall, it’s time for farmers to start harvest. This year, farmers had a bit of a delay when it came to getting their combines started.

Many Iowan farmers are facing somewhat of a challenging harvest season, which can be traced back to the complications of planting season.

Farmers are harvesting their crops a little later than most years. A spring with above-average rainfall left some farmers unsure of how to get their crops planted. Some planted too early, resulting in destroyed crops. Others waited for dryer conditions and planted very late in the season.

The unusual conditions led those in the agriculture industry to wonder what yields would look like come fall.

Chad Hart is an associate professor in the economics department and works as an extension grain markets specialist. He said farmers are facing a later-than-normal harvest season.

“Right now, what [farmers] are wrestling with is just trying to get the crops out of the field,” Hart said. “When you plant late and the crop develops late, you’re going to harvest late, and that’s exactly what we are seeing out there.”

Some of these farmers can be found walking to class on Iowa State’s campus. Many students go home every weekend to help out on their family farms, especially during the busy harvest season.

Daniel Kluesner, freshman in animal science, returns home on the weekends to help out on his farm in Greeley, Iowa. Kluesner’s family runs a beef operation and also farms approximately 1,500 acres of corn.

“Basically, I go home on the weekends and do whatever needs to be done,” Kluesner said. “My main role [during harvest] is mostly driving trucks up and down the road. Sometimes I run the combine, but mostly I’m hauling corn.”

Kluesner said he experienced an unfavorable planting season along with most Iowa farmers. The excessive rain made it difficult to plant.

“It was very wet, and we had a hard time getting [the crop] in,” Kluesner said. “I know we started the planter one Monday morning, and we didn’t quit planting until the next Thursday — just kept it running the whole time because we knew we had to get the corn in, and we were behind so bad.”

Despite the delay, farmers are currently in the fields and trying to work up to where they would usually be around this time of year. There is still a lot of work to be done, though. Hart said farmers will still face challenges before the season is over.

Before assessing yields, farmers need to get their crops out of the field. Just as farmers struggled to get their crops planted, they are now struggling to get them harvested.

Snow has already fallen and impacted the progress being made. In most years, farmers haven’t had to worry about snow being an obstacle. This year, the snow has made it even more difficult to harvest crops, as it makes the fields too wet to operate on.

“When you have fields that are as wet as they are right now, you don’t need any more water, so the snow doesn’t help,” Hart said. “It’s kind of a double whammy in terms of you’re going to get hit with both winter weather conditions all at the same time as you’re trying to catch up with the late crop.”

The snow not only delays the use of machinery for farmers, but it also poses issues when it comes to the condition of the crop harvested.

Cody Baumler, freshman in agricultural systems technology, also travels home on the weekend to assist in harvest. He works for a farmer in Worthington, Iowa, who has approximately 600 acres of corn. A problem Baumler said he has noticed this season is the shortage of liquefied petroleum.

“When I go home, I’ll help haul corn,” Baumler said. “A lot of farmers are dealing with the [liquefied petroleum] shortage. They can’t dry their corn.”

The snowfall this season has made crops like corn have above normal moisture levels. This, along with the hurry farmers are in to complete their late harvest, results in a high demand for liquefied petroleum.

Liquefied petroleum, or propane, is what farmers use to fuel grain dryers. According to the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation, dryers are used to remove moisture from the crop. When farmers sell their crop, it must be at a certain moisture level.

A high moisture content makes a crop heavier. Since crops are sold by weight, they must meet requirements for the amount of water they consist of. This prevents one farmer from receiving more money for a heavier crop that is weighed down with water. The requirements are meant to maintain fairness when selling crops.

Farmers also use dryers to dry crops they are planning to store. Sometimes farmers store crops in hopes of markets improving, as they could have a chance at selling their crop at a higher price. Putting grain in a bin that is too wet could cause it to mold and result in a loss of the crop.

“My boss has a wet bin that is full of corn right now,” Baumler said. “He bought three loads [of corn] from a neighbor, but he can’t put it in [a bin] because he needs to dry it first.”

This shortage of liquefied petroleum has made harvest season even more of a problem. To make up for lost time, farmers are quickly combining their fields of grain that are too wet. They need more liquefied petroleum than normal to keep up with the hurry of the season, but companies that provide the liquefied petroleum cannot keep up with the demand, Baumler said.

According to, as of Nov. 4, Iowa’s corn harvest was 43 percent complete. At that time last year, the corn harvest was 69 percent complete. Both of these statistics are lower than the five year average, which is 72 percent complete.

There seem to be many factors that could result in a less than desirable harvest this year, but the 43 percent of the harvested and evaluated crop still has a more promising yield than what was expected.

Kluesner said most of what has been harvested on his farm has yields just as high as other years. Hart said this seems to be the trend with farmers across the state as well.

Once the crops are out of the field, farmers have many uses on the farm, like feeding livestock. Farmers may also choose to sell their product and have to keep an eye on the always fluctuating markets. As far as crop prices go right now, Hart said they aren’t as good as farmers would like, but things could be worse.

“Farmers are sort of wishing they could have prices they had back earlier this summer when there was a lot of concern about how well this crop would produce,” Hart said. “They’re not as bad as they were a year ago, but they’re not as good as they were, say, four months ago.”

Despite the challenges farmers have faced this year, such as the unpredictability of the crops, Hart said it is nothing to worry about.

“The last few years have been really good crops,” Kluesner said. “On the grand scheme of things, looking over a farmer’s lifetime, this will be a really good production year, just not a great one.”