Arable farming is a crop production type that encompasses a wide range of crops. Concretely, arable crops are inclusive of all field crops that complete their life cycle, from germination to seed production, within one year. There are various types of arable crops depending on the type of their use. These include:
- Grain crops (maize, rice, proso millet)
- Pulse crops (lentil, beans, peas)
- Oilseed crops (rapeseed, soybean, sunflower)
- Forage crops (cowpea, clovers, alfalfa)
- Fiber crops (cotton, sugarcane)
- Tuber crops (potato, sugar beet, cassava).
Since arable farming covers a broad range of various crops, this type of farm management can be complex and be inclusive of many differences. These differences are the most expressive in planting or sowing, as well as during the final crop production stage: harvesting. Harvest is the most stressful time of year for every arable farmer. The specific arable crop harvest management differs according to the type of crop production. In other words, arable crop harvest is a broad term that includes harvesting of grain crops and forage crops, as well as the harvesting of oilseed crops, fiber crops, tubers, and pulses.
What Determines a Successful Arable Crop Harvest?
Arable farmers working towards the best production outcome pay close attention to all aspects of harvest management. These include:
- Optimal harvesting time
- Proper type of harvest
- Post-harvest management
There is one additional secret to a successful arable crop harvest. This secret is the adapting of the harvest management according to the requirements of each crop. After all, plants are living beings. Farmers who “listen“ to the needs of their plants will always be one step ahead.
When is The Optimal Time to Harvest Arable Crops?
Harvesting at the appropriate and optimal time is vital for preserving losses and crop quality. There are a few factors that influence optimal harvesting time. These factors include crop maturity, climate and weather conditions during the farm season, and crop type and variety.
For this reason, the optimal time for arable crop harvest will differ according to the production type. While forage crops are usually harvested at the peak of their vegetative stage (when the crops reach sufficient height and leaf mass, just before the flowering), the harvesting of grains, pulses, and oil seed crops is dependent upon the moisture content. Optimal contents are as follows:
- Maize: between 20% and 25%
- Beans: between 30% and 40%
- Sunflower: between 9% and 10%.
Furthermore, tuber crops such as potatoes, are harvested in their technological maturity, when the tubers reach their optimal size. On the other hand, the harvesting of fiber crops differs greatly. Cotton is harvested in its technological maturity, when the bolls reach their optimal size, while sugarcane harvest begins when the leaves turn yellow or when the optimal sugar content is 15%.
Types of Arable Crop Harvest Management
There are the two main types of arable crop harvests:
- Manual harvest; includes human workforce with the help of simple handheld tools
- Machinery harvest; includes various combines, harvesters, and mowing machines
A manual harvest is recommended for small surfaces and to preserve the quality of the fruits. Machinery harvest is less labor-intensive and more appropriate for larger fields. Farmers will usually choose the harvest type depending on the type of crop they are managing and its production purpose.
Grains are usually harvested using combines and harvesters. Manual grain harvest is practiced rarely, mostly on smaller fields.
In forage crop production, many smallholder farmers prefer cutting, while large-scale farmers find mowing more appropriate for harvest.
Other arable crops (tubers, pulses, oilseed crops, fiber crops) can be harvested both ways. However, machinery harvest is always less labor-intensive and recommended for larger fields. For example, manual cutting of sugarcane is physically demanding and requires skilled workers. Therefore, larger sugarcane farmers usually practice machinery harvest.
An additional example is the potato harvest, where smallholder farmers generally practice manual digging. It’s hard work, not always appropriate for larger fields.
Post-harvest Arable Crop Management
After the harvesting is done, there is still much work to do. Each arable crop has its own post-harvest management requirements. It’s extremely important to follow the requirements to prevent yield and quality losses.
For example, grains require drying before storage. Furthermore, potatoes require sorting and removing of damaged, diseased, or frozen tubers. In order to prevent and reduce potential damage or disease, potatoes require curing before storage. On the other hand, sugarcane is processed for use in various products such as sugar, fiber, biomass, ethanol, and biofuel. Therefore, it’s post-harvest management will differ depending on the purpose of production.
Due to all aforementioned facts, harvest can be stressful. It may sound impossible, but, if the crop’s requirements are considered and adhered to, it’s actually very simple. So, listen to your crops and make the harvest as easy as possible.
Text sources: FAO
Image sources: BBC