Grains, also called cereals, are one of the most important crops. These crops play a major role in human diet, particularly in developing countries. More importantly, grains represent a staple food and the main source of income for farmers throughout the world. Theoretically, grains represent cultivated grasses and millets grown for their edible starch grain, such as wheat, maize, rice, proso millet, barley, and sorghum.
When compared to fruits and vegetables, grains are relatively easy to grow. However, the success is reserved only for farmers who invest in their knowledge and properly manage their grain production. Proper farm management is the result of hard work throughout the entire process, from the beginning to the end, when crops reach their consumers. Therefore, harvest, as the final farm practice, plays a significant role in final yields and quality of cereals. In order to finish grain production successfully, farmers have to pay attention to three important aspects of proper harvest management. These include:
- Proper grain maturity
- Adopting the type of harvest that will accomodate the crop and farm size
- Post-harvest management
How to Determine Grain Maturity
Harvesting at the optimal time and maturity is a vital precondition to ensuring stable yields and quality crops. Therefore, it's extremely important to perform harvest when the crop begins with its full maturity. The main reason for this is because in this stage the grain has the lowest moisture it can achieve in the field.
The optimal harvest time for each grain crop will depend on a few factors, which include:
- Recommended moisture level for each grain crop
- The purpose of growing each grain crop
- Weather conditions
When determining the right time for harvesting, it's essential to be aware of the differences between the three different types of grain maturity: milk maturity, dough maturity, and full maturity. First, milk maturity starts when the grain moisture is 65% and finishes at 50% grain moisture. In this stage, grain contains a white slurry. The best way to recognize milk maturity is to press the grain to see if there is any liquid.
Second, dough maturity starts when liquid hardens inside the grain. The grain is firm and the moisture is at 20%- 28%. Finally, full maturity is reached when the grain is completely mature and reaches its final shape, size, color, and chemical composition.
Each grain crop has its own optimal moisture level for harvesting:
- Wheat: between 14% and 20%
- Maize: between 23% and 28%
- Sorghum: between 20% and 25%
- Rice: between 22% and 28%.
Additionally, it's recommended to perform grain harvest early in the morning. The main reason for this is because the morning dew softens the stalks and protects the plants from being crushed.
Types of Grain Harvest
Grains are usually harvested with the use of machinery. Manual harvest with the use of simple farm implements is practiced rarely, usually on smaller farms. When using machinery to harvest grains, it's important to adjust the machinery settings. For example, it's important to adjust the combine header to the height of the wheat that will be cut. The best practice is to set the combine header so it cuts the most wheat while cutting the least amount of straw.
More importantly, in order to achieve successful harvest management, a farmer must be aware of all conditions of the field. In addition, every successful grain farmer must always be ready to adjust the settings of machinery.
What Happens After The Grain Harvest
After the harvest is finished, there is still much work for farmers. Once a grain crop is harvested, a farmer needs to manage its drying and storage. This is the final stage of grain production. Grain drying is an essential practice that occurs before storage. It reduces the grain moisture by 80-90% and prepares the crop for further storage.
Each grain crop has its own storage requirements. It's important to adjust storage conditions in order to preserve crop quality and prevent or discourage the growth of microorganisms or infestation of insects. Additionally, it’s also recommended to clean and maintain storage facilities and equipment before and after every use.
Nearing the end, the only thing left to do is to manage the grain residues. Straw can be baled or spread over the field with a combine. However, some farmers prefer to leave crop residues on the field.
In conclusion, grain harvest is a complex farm management practice that directly affects the final yields and the quality of crops. However, when managed carefully, it leads to remarkable crop results. So, pay close attention and use the best farm practice to manage your grain harvest successfully.