Harvesting Soybeans

The combines, poised and ready to roll through the last farm of beans for the year.

Soybeans.  For a farmer, they have their drawbacks. Weather conditions have to be just right to harvest.  They can be too wet or too dry and there’s not much you can do about it.  They are hard on a combine, and it is a constant adjustment of the machine to make sure they are being harvested correctly.

This field was once a tall, green field of growing beans. Now they have matured, lost their leaves, and are dried out and ready to harvest.

They have a positive side too.  When conditions are right, you can harvest a lot more acres per hour than corn.  They “fix” nitrogen in the soil to make it available to the corn that will be planted in the same field the following year, therefore reducing the need for fertilizer. They take less inputs and cost less to grow per acre than corn.

The attachement on the front of the combine is called a grain table, or head, and cuts the plant off at the base, then pulls the entire plant into the combine.

We just wrapped up the 2010 soybean harvest this past week, with not too much to complain about.  Yields were good, about 50-55 bushels per acre and the weather was nice and dry.

The one complaint we can make is on our combines.  We own two machines, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They both came out to the field from the repair shop and proceeded to break down…multiple times.  We had 3 separate incidences of tires coming off,  a few different belts breaking, and other mechanical difficulties.  I cannot describe how extremely frustrating it is to see such expensive machines just sitting in a field of expensive crops that need to be harvested.  It’s maddening for me, and it’s even more so for my husband and his brother and dad. Chances are we will not be running the same combines next year.

Finishing up the very last of the beans, our house is in the background.

And.....DONE!

Wet weather will put a halt to bean harvest.  The plants absorb the moisture and won’t feed through the combine properly.  Even a dew at night will make things too “tough” to harvest.  Thankfully, we have had little to no rain and absolutely gorgeous fall weather this year.

Soybeans are ready to harvest when they have died off, lost their leaves, and dried out.  They are harvested by the combine, which cuts the plant off and sends it through the machine which separates the beans from the pods and the rest of the plant.  It does this by rubbing the plants up against a screen, then shaking them through sieves.  The sieves will send the beans up an elevator into a tank on top of the combine, and the rest of the plant will be blown out the back of the combine onto the ground. Here’s a nice link to a simple soybean anatomy chart, if you’re confused by some of the terms I’m using.

This is the grain cart, used to "catch" the grain from the combine in the field and haul it to the trucks waiting near the road.

When the tank on top is full, the combine driver puts out its auger and unloads into the grain cart as it drives alongside.

When the tank on top of the combine is full, the driver will push a button to extend a long auger out.  This is the sign that the person driving the tractor and grain cart (often times, me) is to come alongside the combine and “catch” the beans as they are unloaded.  Then, when the grain cart is full, it takes its load to the semi trucks and fills them.  The trucks do not drive in the fields because their tires will create ruts, soil compaction, and, eventually, erosion.  The combines and tractors have big wide tires to distribute their weight evenly and lessen the impact on the soil.  The grain cart will follow the same path through the field on each trip to keep the soil disturbance to a minimum.

This is one of the semi trucks we use to haul grain in to our grain bins, as well as to the processors who buy our grain.

The semi truck, once full, then takes the load of beans in to a grain bin, where they will be stored until prices improve or we need the income.  During harvest, the price per bushel of beans is typically the lowest it will be all year due to supply and demand.  There is an abundance of supply, and there will be more demand in future moths, so prices are low to encourage the farmer to store their crop and wait to put it on the market….but marketing is really a whole other blog post in and of itself.

I was waiting in the grain cart tractor and snapped a few pictures of the landscape while the combines rolled.

So, that’s the soybean harvest in a nutshell.  Eventually our beans will go on to become things like soy milk, oil,  salad dressing, diesel fuel, tires, pharmaceuticals, crayons, glue, paint, and plastics.  It’s amazing, really, to realize that the crops we cared for all year will go on to do such beneficial things!

And, finally, I’m excited because I figured out how to put my YouTube videos right here in this blog for you to watch… so check it out… one of our combines in action, harvesting beans!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I grew up on a farm in southern Ohio but we did not have soy beans in the area. This was a very interesting post. I love reading and learning about your farm life. thanks

  2. Great job of bringing your Iowa farm and Soybean Harvest to life! … really enjoyed it… nice soybean production video too. I’m curious. What was your row spacing? I’ve recently been told that harvesting narrow row soybeans (less than 30″) is easier and more efficient than harvesting soybeans in wide rows. Combine efficiency is increased because a more even distribution of plants makes them easier to cut and feed into the combine and harvest losses are reduced because there are no cultivator ridgex to interfere with cutting height.

    • I’m pretty sure they are 30″ rows, same as our corn, because we use the same planter. Back before my time on the farm, we would plant them with a grain drill, not really sure why we got away from that, except for maybe time constraints. I would imagine that your theory is right. I will ask my husband, the real expert, when I get a chance 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!!

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