By JOHN O'CONNELL
PAYETTE, IDAHO -- About 3 inches of snow cover Doyle Schuester's fields, and the January weather has dipped low enough to freeze the ground solid.
Schuester, a Payette grower, believes the timing is about right to begin harvesting corn. Schuester said he's among a small group of corn growers within a 10-mile area of southwest Idaho who have yet to harvest due to difficult field conditions late last fall.
Schuester has no combine and hires a person to harvest for him. He'd hoped to harvest his 10-acre corn field in late October or early November but couldn't find a window because the ground was too mucky.
Harvesting so late is always a gamble. Birds can feed on the crop, and Schuester said wind can blow it down.
Recently, he's seen a few 20- to 30-acre corn fields damaged by strong winds.
"Mine is standing really good. My stand is not real thick, and the stalks are large, and we're in a little pocket that doesn't get a lot of strong winds," Schuester said.
The benefit of harvesting late is that the extra time and freezing conditions help reduce moisture content. Growers are docked for having moisture above 15 percent because higher amounts make grain less storable. Schuester's moisture content was 16.5 percent when he checked it in late December. He'll wait for wind to blow snow from his stalks before harvesting to keep out unnecessary moisture.
Clark Gill, a merchandiser with Scoular Co. in Weiser, Idaho, said most of the area's grain was harvested on time, but a few growers in Treasure Valley have waited into the winter to avoid paying the fee to have their corn dried.
"I'm aware of a handful of people still harvesting," Gill said. "Nothing good can happen to (corn) now in the field."
Emmett grower Dar Olberding harvested all of his corn by Dec. 1 this season. In the past, however, bad weather has come in while he's waited for corn to dry and delayed his harvest.
About four years ago, he harvested in January, and he recalled a season in which he harvested one end of the field as he planted the other.
"It happens a lot around here," Olberding said. "There's all kinds of problems that can happen. The biggest loss is if you get deep snow and the ducks move in. Boy, they can clean fields pretty fast.
"It's generally the weather that stops you from doing anything."