By Connor Lynch
RENFREW — Harvest in 2017 was a long, tough slog, with some farmers taking corn off the ground right up until Christmas. Unexpectedly good crops meant that some elevators filled up when they weren’t expecting too, forcing some corn to stay in the field. Low-grade corn enticed some farmers to leave their corn in the field deliberately, gambling on a dry down and improvement in test weight over the winter.
For many farmers, it was a gamble that paid off, even if it was one they’d just as soon avoid. Renfrew County crop farmer and Farmers Forum columnist Maynard van der Galien was still harvesting his corn well into April. Over 50 acres of his grain corn, if he had gone to the dryer last fall, would’ve been Grade 5 and 27 per cent moisture.
But an April harvest turned up Grade 2 corn at 15 per cent moisture. Galien said as much as 30 per cent of corn in his area was left overwinter.
Cobden-area farmer and custom operator Dean Matheson left about 95 acres of corn in the field over winter, finishing his harvest by the beginning of April. Last fall, it was high moisture and low grade corn; the winter dried it down to 14 per cent moisture, saving him on drying costs, but didn’t improve the grade much. Three of his customers were in a similar situation, though one had some of his corn to Grade 2.
Crysler-area farmer and custom operator Marcel LaFrance said two of his customers left their grain corn over the winter, ending up with 15 per cent moisture and Grade 2 corn. “The guys that have done it and can manage it, they’d had great success.” LaFrance, who didn’t overwinter any corn this year but used to, said that as long as you have a variety that can handle it, there’s not too much risk leaving corn in the field, apart from some animals nibbling.
But it’s not for everyone, not for the faint of heart, and a year like this can ruin you, said agronomist Gilles Quesnel. The ice storm that hit Eastern Ontario April 13 was exactly the wrong thing overwintering corn needed. “The ice builds up on the stalk, and the strong wind breaks it off.” Any farmer who already had their corn off, however, likely came out ahead, he said.
Douglas-area farmer Jennifer Doelman agreed. She didn’t overwinter any corn this year, but did last year and the year before. In 2015, the only Grade 2 corn she ended up with was the overwintered corn she ended up harvesting in June. But in 2016, she had a spring like this year’s, and ended up with 40 per cent loss on her overwintered corn. “I was trying to get cobs off the ground, and I broke them all off. I would’ve been better off with a steamroller.”
Her farm deliberately overwinters corn when grade is borderline, because trucking costs in Renfrew County are expensive. “If we’re not in a crop insurance position, we leave it because we have nothing to lose.”