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Soy Harvesting

Source: USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service

Harvesting crops involves getting the crop out of the field and transported to market. Most crops are harvested in the fall, except for hay which is cut several times over the course of the summer.

Field crops are harvested by machine, while small fruits and other food crops are typically harvested by hand, although in certain cases, they may be harvested by machine.

Operations and Timing

Hay Harvesting

Source: USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service

Typical harvest period (in eastern corn belt)
Corn - grain October 7 to November 3
Corn - silage September 1 to October 15
Soybeans October 1 to October 20
Wheat (spring) August 14 to September 1
Wheat (winter) June 15 to July 15
Hay Usually 3 cuttings from May 15 to Sept. 30

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Equipment Used


Farm tractor and tillage implement
Source: Daniel R. Ess, Purdue University

Tractors - are traction machines that provide mechanical, hydraulic, and/or electrical power to implements to perform a wide range of crop production and handling operations. Tractors are most often used to perform drawbar work and PTO (power take-off) work. Tractors can be equipped with rubber tires, rubber belts, or steel tracks. A modern farm tractor is almost always equipped with a diesel engine and tractor size is measured by the amount of power that the tractor can produce at the PTO. Tractor sizes range for those with less than 40 PTO horsepower to ones that produce more than 400 horsepower. The cost of a large tractor can exceed $200,000.
Self-Propelled Forage Harvester

A self-propelled forage harvester loading chopped corn into a truck on-the-go.
Source: Class of America

Forage Harvesters - are tractor-drawn implements or self-propelled machines that are used to gather, chop, and discharge forage crops as it moves through the field. The crops are typically harvested at a very high moisture content to permit ensiling (preservation through anaerobic fermentation). Forage harvesters require a great deal of power to perform the required functions. The largest self-propelled forage harvesters currently available have diesel engines that produce in excess of 600 horsepower.

Tractor and Pull-Type Combine

Tractor and pull-type combine operating in a small grain crop

Combines - are farm machines used to harvest grain and seed crops.   The major functions performed by a combine include cutting and/or gathering, feeding, threshing, separating, cleaning, and grain handling operations on-the-go in the field.   The vast majority are self-propelled, receiving power to perform all of the previously listed operations and traction from a diesel engine.   The combine is often the most expensive farm machine used in grain or row crop production with list prices for the largest models exceeding $350,000.   Some machines can harvest a thirty-foot swath of crop in a single pass through the field.

Self-Propelled Combine with Grain Header

Self-propelled combine equipped with a grain header
Source: Daniel R. Ess, Purdue University

Self-Propelled Combine with Corn Head

Self-propelled combine equipped with a corn head preparing to harvest corn
Source: Daniel R. Ess, Purdue University

Cotton Harvesters

Cotton harvesters at work in the field
Source: Deere Photo Library, Vol. 3

Cotton Harvesters - are self-propelled machines specifically designed to pick (or strip), accumulate, and off-load large quantities of cotton in the field.

Large-Capacity Grain Cart

A large-capacity grain cart unloading into a waiting truck
Source: Daniel R. Ess, Purdue University

Grain Carts - are tractor-drawn implements used to shuttle grain from combines to hauling vehicles or to grain receiving facilities. Grain carts are usually equipped with "high-flotation" tires or rubber tracks to attempt to minimize soil compaction in the field. The capacity of such carts can exceed 1,000 bushels (equivalent to 56,000 lb of shelled corn or 60,000 lb of soybeans).

Large Round Baler

Large round baler discharging a newly-formed bale of hay
Source: Deere Photo Library, Vol. 3

Balers - are implements used for packaging hay, or straw to permit mechanized handling and transport.   The two most common bale formats are large round bales (> 4 feet in diameter) and large rectangular bales (up to 8 feet in length). Large bales can weigh more than 2,000 pounds.

Large Rectangular Baler

Large rectangular baler discharging a newly-formed bale of straw
Source: Class of America

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