Corn harvest is in full swing around here, and soybean harvest is getting started! The last time we looked at this corn field was just two weeks ago – I took photos on 9/16, and thought that there would still be a few weeks before the field was harvested. Well, it was harvested just a few days later, on 9/23!
Just so you don’t forget, this is what the field looked like on 9/16…
There’s a big difference now! Farmers use a piece of equipment called a combine to harvest corn. The combine cuts the corn stalks close to the ground, but leaves corn stubble about 12 inches tall.
The combine separates the corn cobs from the stalks and the corn kernels from the cobs. It collects all the corn kernels, but spits out the cob, the husk from around the cob, and the rest of the stalk. This is called the “residue.”
Combines are very efficient, but they aren’t 100% efficient. There is always a little bit of waste where an ear here or there will “escape” from the combine and be left on the ground. (You can just barely see an ear of corn still in the husk on the right side of this photo. There’s an empty cob on the left.)
Farmers will leave this residue on the field. It helps to control erosion from wind and rain, and as it breaks down it will be a natural fertilizer for next year. Some farmers will till the residue back into the ground (mix it in with the top layers of dirt) either later this fall or in the spring. Some farmers use no-till practices, where they leave the residue on top of the ground and then just plant through it next year. The type of soil determines whether or not a farmer can use no-till practices. Soils that are very hard and compacted are difficult to manage and farm with no-till practices.
Even though the corn kernels are yellow, the cob from this field corn is red. On most sweet corn, the cob will be white or pale yellow. This is just a difference in the variety of corn.
I wasn’t able to get photos of this corn field being harvested, but I do have some photos of another corn field being harvested two years ago. I’ll use some of those photos to demonstrate the basics of how a combine works in a few weeks.