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Benefits of an Early Harvest

Friday, August 1, 1997
filed under: Harvest/Storage

Northern sunflower producers who refrain from harvesting until seed moisture levels fall into the 10- to 11-percent range often sacrifice more in crop loss than they gain in savings by not having to dry the seeds, suggests North Dakota State University extension agricultural engineer Vern Hofman. That’s especially true, he says, when a wet autumn sets in and moisture contents simply never fall off, thus requiring substantial drying energy — and expense — to achieve safe levels for storage.

Hofman lists several ways in which an early harvest can be of benefit:

• The crop’s exposure to late-season weather and pest problems is reduced. Blackbird depredation, autumn winds and late-season disease development (e.g., head rot) cease to be threats as soon as the combine makes its rounds.

• Seed loss due to shatter at the combine head typically is minimized when harvesting at a moisture level in the mid-’teens, compared to that of low-moisture sunflower. Some producers believe that the costs associated with drying higher-moisture seeds (mid- to upper ’teens) is more than offset by lower shatter loss alone.

• Foreign material levels among seeds combined at higher moisture percentages are normally lower, resulting in less screening and fewer storage problems and/or less dockage at the elevator.

• The chance of “fines” and other debris accumulating around the combine’s engine compartment and other areas during harvest and possibly igniting is reduced when moisture levels are in the ’teens rather than at 10 percent or less.

• Harvesting and marketing seeds below a 10-percent moisture level results in a loss of marketable test weight, i.e., the farmer will be paid for fewer pounds of delivered sunflower since payment is based on a standard 10-percent moisture.

• Harvesting at an earlier date (September or early October) means that if drying is required, temperatures will still be warm enough to maximize drying efficiency. Drying in late October or November is especially difficult with natural air/low-temperature systems.

• In some years, prices for sunflower can be quite attractive just prior to the customary dip during and following the main harvest. Those who harvest first will be in a better position to take advantage of higher prices. — Don Lilleboe
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