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Late planting doesn’t bode well for a frost-free harvest.

It’s been a bizarre year for grain farmers. Early season rains led to flooded fields, forcing crops to be planted later than normal. We’re also seeing reports that both the grain and corn yield in particular will be down significantly from 2018. In fact, Accuweather’s latest crop production analysis says it will be the lowest corn yield since 2012 for most of the country, with 13.36 billion bushels compared to 14.42 billion in 2018.

But now farmers have another issue to deal with, as a late planting schedule puts their crops at risk of falling victim to frost. Should there be cause for concern? Forecasters say it’s at least time to take precautions.

Soybeans behind Schedule

Those early rains, part of the nation’s wettest 12 months on record, caused farmers to delay planting anywhere from two weeks to one month. Even now, as we enter fall, most crops are not ready for harvest.

“Corn and soybeans are still about a week or two behind where they should be, which makes them vulnerable to a frost, even if it’s on time,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls. “And we think it’s a little-higher-than-usual probability that we’ll get that first frost on time.”

The National Weather Service predicts the first frost between mid to late October for the East Coast, with it reaching the Midwest around the first of the month. That means trouble for most farms, as delayed planting puts harvest season this year in early to mid-October.

It’s an issue especially for farms dealing in corn and other grains, as when most grains encounter frost, they stop growing and their seeds start to dry down. That can lead to a 20-bushel-per acre reduction in yield, according to Accuweather’s analysis. Nicholls echoed those concerns in a statement, saying that if the frost does arrive on schedule, it could cause problems.

“If we get that on-time freeze, there could be a little damage,” Nicholls said. “We think there will be scattered frost and not anything that would be a widespread problem, but it’s probably going to be a close call.”

Officials Offer Steps to Take

With a later harvest this year, some farmers have to accept that the frost will arrive before the crop is ready. However, there are several steps you can take to protect your farm and limit the impact. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization recommends that you manage the frost by doing some farm cleanup. Cold air drains down a slope, so you can look at your farm and determine the path it will take. The faster you move it out of the area, the less likely it’ll settle in and cause frost damage.

Any obstacles that could slow down the drainage needs to be removed. That means things like bales of hay, hedgerows or even dense vegetation on the downslope side of the field. Some thick wooden fences can also be obstacles, as they block the cold air from escaping. The goal here is to help the cold air move quickly through an area rather than giving it time to settle.

Leveling the land around your crop can also help, so the incoming cold air rushes through. One way you can test this, even now during warmer weather, is to go out and see where fog patches lie on your farm. If fog gathers now, cold air will likely do the same thing later this fall. Finally, you can also help by removing all weeds from the area around your crops. That will maximize the heat absorption during the day, making it harder for frost to form.

Protect Your Grain after the Harvest

Now once you harvest the grain, you can’t change the quality. Whatever damage the frost has done is permanent. You can however stop the crop from deteriorating by controlling the temperature. If the air temperature isn’t controlled, moisture can build up and cause the grain to spoil before you’re able to sell it.

For example, let’s say you have a corn harvest this year with 17 percent moisture content. According to the USDA Farm Service Agency’s data, you could store that corn at 80 degrees for an estimated 27 days. That means you would need to find a buyer within a month, before mold sets in. Unfortunately, current market conditions make that seem unlikely, so you need to keep it unspoiled for months, not days.

Now let’s take that same crop but lower the air temperature in the silo to 40 degrees. Now your grain harvest can be stored for around 282 days. You have more than nine months rather than four weeks to sell the product. There are a number of ways we can help make this happen, including a portable device  on-site, or by doing it remotely.

For more information about storing your grain harvest safely, and grain temperature monitoring, call us at 1-800-438-8367, contact us here or live chat to ask about the right grain monitoring system for your farm.