How to harvest the best-quality soybeans

Written by Walter Ens on Sep 25 2014

Category: Grow Grain

The calendar doesn't dictate your crop’s maturity. Monitor these four things to get a good crop in the bin.

Getting soybeans off the field won’t be a straight shot for growers in Manitoba and Ontario this year. We’re all over the map in terms of maturity, with beans everywhere from R7 to completely mature. There’s a lot to consider before heading in with the combine, but don’t panic – here’s some advice on harvest timing and getting the best quality beans in the bin.

1. Understand moisture levels.

Your soybeans need to be below 13% moisture to store safely. Book values say you can start harvesting at 20% moisture, but I like to see them below 18%. However, don’t let your moisture levels sink too low. Anything below 14% can result in a lot of cracked seed going through the combine. Elevators like to see whole beans, and cracked seed affects grading. 

On the calendar, it looks like we’re late to harvest, but if your beans are still moist, relax and wait another week or so. As long as we don’t get a lot of ambient moisture, you’re not going to lose any yield by letting your soybeans stand out in the field. Inmy experience, a bean won’t change colour in the bin. It’s worth waiting for them to dry down on their own.

2. Manage uneven maturity.

Mature field showing green patches

This year, we’re seeing a lot of soybean crops with green patches. Harvesting fields with uneven maturity can be a tricky task. If possible, wait until low-lying areas mature and the green patches disappear. Monitor your moisture levels closely, and aim for 18% moisture in low areas and 14% moisture in the rest of the field. If you can strike that balance, you’ll get a good sample and good harvest.

If low-lying areas aren’t drying, and the rest of the field is quickly approaching that 14% cut off, you might want to consider harvesting and binning low areas separately. It doesn’t work for all growers, but some operations have the flexibility to do so. Your Cargill agronomist can help you calculate the risk and come up with the best solution for your farm. 

3. Check your combine settings.

If you’re new to soybeans, you may not have a flex header or air reel on your combine. Don’t worry; a well-calibrated rigid set up can work too. The trick is to get your table as low as possible when harvesting. The best beans are the bottom beans – they’re the most mature and the best quality. Here’s a test to determine if your combine is capturing the most yield possible. 

  1. Walk into the field and check the soil. If there aren’t any beans on the ground, you know that environmental conditions haven’t caused the pods to drop or shatter.
  2. Now, drive the combine into the field and harvest at least 120 feet, then back up and look in front of your machinery. 
  3. Walk to the front of the combine to the non-harvested plants. Did any beans fall to the ground when the header touched them? 
  4. Now walk behind the combine and take a look at the ground: How many beans are falling out the back?

Four beans seeds per square foot behind the combine equates to one bushel of loss per acre. By making this assessment, you can figure out what kind of losses you’re getting. Adjust your combine settings to capture as many beans as possible. If there is a lot of pod shatter when the header touches the plant, try slowing your speed. If you’re missing the low-hanging pods, try lowering your table.  

4. Consider the daily temperature. 

The temperature outside affects the plant during harvest, so check your combine settings periodically throughout the day. Until you feel comfortable and understand conditions and losses, it’s worth the extra effort to get more yield in the hopper.  

Soybean moisture levels can really swing over the course of a day. Even a bean that was dry will suddenly take on moisture if humidity rises. On the other end of the spectrum, pods will become more brittle during the hottest part of the afternoon – that’s when it’s really important to run the assessment I described above.  

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to harvesting your soybeans, but the most important thing to remember is this: don’t panic. The calendar doesn't dictate your crop’s maturity. As long as you’re monitoring moisture, doing your best to manage green patches and assessing what’s in front and behind your combine, you’ll get a good crop in the bin.

Don’t hesitate to give us a shout. Your Cargill representative is always happy to answer questions and help you make harvest decisions. 

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