The Story of Soybean Harvest

This time of year, the leaves are changing and the weather is cooling. It’s time to visit a pumpkin patch, make Halloween plans and break out the cool-weather clothing. For farmers, this time of year holds a different meaning: It’s harvest time. While many of us see the equipment in the fields and know that crops are done growing for the season, there is much more that goes into soybean harvest than just driving a combine across a field. John Horter is a father of two and a farmer from Andover. He grows corn and soybeans, and raises beef cattle. We caught up with him to find out everything that goes into the soybean’s journey from field to plate.

John’s son Dane is a young farmer-in-training. He loves to share the latest “crop reports” from their farm. Here he is with a crop report on soybean harvest.

The machines you see out in the fields are likely combines, which farmers like John use to harvest their crops. How does John know his soybeans are ready to harvest? First, farmers watch their fields. For South Dakota farmers, this usual starts in mid- to late September. Check out our soybean growth infographic for more information.

“We monitor the fields very closely,” said John. “We watch for visual signs. The leaves will turn from green to brown and start to drop. Once we think they are close, we take moisture samples. We’re looking for 13.5 percent moisture or less before we can harvest.”

John and his family walk around their local farm.

John, his two kids and his wife on their family farm.

John with his daughter.

Weather is Key
Dry weather is imperative to a successful harvest. If the plants are too wet, the seeds won’t be able to separate from the pods; and if the ground is too wet, equipment could get stuck in the field. Weather is a major factor in the timing of planting and the health of soybeans throughout the growing season. John said this year, Mother Nature worked in his favor.

“We are in the northwest part of the state where we had warmer, drier weather so harvest was ahead of schedule. It went very well because we didn’t have weather delays.”

The impact of weather makes a big difference in harvest conditions for farms in different regions of the state. Southern South Dakota had a lot of rain this year, which delayed planting in the spring, so their harvest began later.

The Horter family holds hands on a walk through their farm.

John and Dane discuss the latest crop report.

Dane on his family's farm.

The Art of Harvest
“Once soybeans show the visual signs of being ready for harvest and moisture levels are dry enough, we head out to the fields with our combine to start taking the crop out of the field,” said John. “The combine has the capability to be flexible as it goes over the ground. It’s pretty neat technology that guides the part of the combine that does the harvesting along the contours of the ground, cutting off the plants. Next, it’s fed into the big drum in the combine that separates grain from the pods with sieves that shake the pods away from the seeds. Those seeds are what we end up harvesting.”

“Even though the weather was very dry in our region during the growing season and we had some hail, we still found very good yields,” he said. “I attribute that to modern genetics and our GMO crops being able to more efficiently use moisture even in adverse conditions.”

When John is done harvesting, he will prepare his fields for next year’s crop and take care of other areas of his farm for the winter months. He’ll use the what he learned from this past season to plan for next year.


Dane adventures about his farm.

Dane plays on his family's farm.

“As we harvest, we have a lot of monitors that show us how our crop did. We always think about how to improve and do things more efficiently next year,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure we use as few inputs as possible to grow a healthy crop.”

John and South Dakota farmers like him work hard to grow healthy crops. So next time you break out your jacket and head to the pumpkin patch, remember that farmers are breaking out their combines to start the process of turning their crops into the nutritious ingredients that make up the great food on our plates.

Do you have questions for John about soybean harvest or what he’s up to this time of year? Leave them in the comments.