It was all hands on deck at Dennis Riggs’ family farm late last week, when sons Darin and Matthew took the afternoon off work at Riggs Beer Company, which they own, to plant crops and finish a planting season that has gone much later than typical years.
“We had all three tractors running, and we had a Riggs behind the steering wheel of all three tractors,” Dennis Riggs said. “I don’t know when was the last time that’s happened.”
The extra help was needed. Much like other farms across Illinois, Riggs’ planting season had been interrupted time after time by downpours.
According to last week’s USDA report, only 45 percent of corn and 21 percent of soybeans had been planted. At the same time last year, those percentages were 95 and 84, respectively.
Local farmers, though, have rushed to plant in small spurts. During the small pockets of dry weather, Mark Pflugmacher has stayed up planting as late as 1:30 a.m. and wakes up about 5 the next morning.
This week’s dry weather finally allowed him to finish planting, about a month later than he finished a year ago.
“It’s been a relief that we have a little bit of a window better than two days,” Pflugmacher said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, maybe we can quit early at night and get recuperated, take some time and fix some stuff that broke the last three days, four days.’
“When we’re working real long days, we’re not stopping very much, and that’s when accidents happen, but we’re just doing the best we can.”
The later growing season can have multiple pitfalls.
Days begin growing shorter after the June 21 summer solstice, meaning the plants won’t quite receive maximum daylight, and the wet weather made the application of nitrogen fertilizer more difficult. The late planting season would also make an early frost devastating.
“It’s not to say that we can’t still have good crops,” Chris Hausman said. “It all depends on rainfall, and what we can’t have — and this would be terrible all over the Midwest — is an early killing frost.
“If we would happen to have a frost come in that first week of September, that would really be detrimental to the crops, because we’re going to need an extended growing season this year, and this crop is going to need all the daylight it can get. The last thing you want is for that growing season to end by an early frost.”
Hausman, who has farmed full time since the early ‘90s, rushed to get his planting done earlier this week because the forecast called for rain.
Luckily for farmers like Pflugmacher, the rain held off this week in Champaign County. Now, local farmers are waiting to see what lies ahead for their crops.
“This probably would have to go down as the most challenging spring that we’ve ever had,” Hausman said. “It was just a challenge, because these rains, just when you had the thought that the ground is just getting fit, then we would get another half of an inch to three-quarters of an inch on top of that, and that would set us back another three or four days, and basically, that happened all spring. ... There were just a lot of things working against us this year.”