Harvest Time in the Deltas

A windstorm downed this corn

Farmers in the Skagit and Stillaguamish deltas have faced challenges like farmers all across the U.S.A. this year. Heavy rains lasting until almost the 4th of July delayed plowing and planting. Then came drought, the worst in 50 years in the U.S. and also in Southern Europe, Russia, China, and the Ukraine.

We wondered if the corn would grow in time to ripen before the winter rains. Well, much of it did, green and high above a man’s head. But some dried up before it reached full height, stressed by the dry weather. Then, before the harvesters got into the fields, a windstorm flattened whole fields of the best-looking corn. Was it too late to salvage it for the silage the farmers need to feed their cattle another year?

Perhaps not. Several days after the storm, we noticed harvesters working in the corn fields below our home. We grabbed the camera and drove down to watch from the edge of the field.

Cutting and chopping downed corn; blowing it into the hopper
Hoisting the load into the truck
Off to the storage silo

A Stillaguamish Valley farm with pit silo and silage

We followed a truck full of chopped cornstalks. It stopped at a scale to be weighed, then drove out into the country to deliver its load to a farmer’s pit silo. A pit silo can be an area walled on two sides. The corn is piled between the walls, and the farmer packs it down by driving a tractor over it. When the pile is large enough, and compacted well enough, it is covered with plastic weighted down with old tires. Then it ferments until the farmer needs silage to feed his dairy cows. Sometimes the corn is simply piled in a mountain on the ground, compacted, and covered.

I learned that drought-stressed corn can make high quality silage if harvested, packed, and stored carefully. As with most endeavors, there’s a lot more to all that than meets the eye. But even if we don’t understand all that we see, it’s fascinating to watch the harvest going on.

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