Farmers can only sit, wait until dryer weather to plant

This is a sight that hasn’t been seen around this area for a while — dust. This file photo shows a farmer working a field prior to planting several years ago. Farmers are dancing the “no-rain” dance so they can begin planting fields.

“None whatsoever.”

That’s how much crop has been planted as of last week in the county, according to Bailey Edenburn, assistant manager, Champaign County Farm Bureau.

Homo sapiens aren’t generally the most patient of species. And the category of humans known as “farmers” aren’t any different in that regard. Maybe less so.

While the general population would surely join Chris Farley’s Matt Foley character in screaming, “For the love of God, stop raining!” because they simply want nicer conditions, farmers have an even greater vested interest. The weather plays such a large part in their livelihood.

Champaign County is not anomalous in terms of planting progress.

“The county is pretty typical for the rest of the state,” Edenburn said. “The last number I saw was like 1 percent of the fields had been planted.”

That’s no different from last year, but what makes the lag time troublesome is that farmers didn’t get nearly as much field work done in the fall of 2018 as they did the year before in preparation for getting spring planting rolling.

“They need to be able to spend a little longer in the spring. That makes them very nervous,” Edenburn said.

In the last four years, 17 percent of the corn crop had been planted as of April 21.

“The optimum date (for getting corn in the ground) depends on who you talk to,” Edenburn said. “Last year, pretty much no one had had anything planted either.”

While being able to plant “the next few weeks would be fantastic,” she said, this week’s forecast isn’t promising. Rainy weather is the norm. As of Thursday,

Edenburn said rain was forecast for “10 or 11 out of the next 14 days,” according to weather.com

In addition to dry weather, warm and windy conditions would be welcome.

Champaign County’s tighter soil type, while making for quality yields, isn’t conducive to quick drying.

“If you get over in Mason County, where it’s sandy, they can get in faster because it drains  faster,” Edenburn said. “My fiance is near Peoria in the Washington-Tremont area. He works for a fertilizer chemical plant. They’ve been able to put on some chemical.”

Field drainage in the Rantoul area depends on the farm, Edenburn said.

“Many farmers put in tile to help with drainage,” she said. “When you get up there, the soil type tends to change. It depends on the farm.”

If farmers have to wait a number of weeks to plant, changing from corn to soybeans might not be so easy because most farmers have already bought their seed.

“For a lot of guys, it would be difficult to change,” she said. “If they have a seed company that’s willing to work with them,” that might help.

While time is a-wastin’, farmers could still have good yields if they get in the field in the next few weeks. Last year’s yields were “really good,” Edenburn said.

Doug Gucker, an educator for University of Illinois Extension, said recent history since 2000 does not show that late planting always leads to lower yields. He mentioned last year as well as 2008 when planting did not start until May as examples when farmers got in late and still had good crops.

The key, he said, “is to select high-yielding varieties and planting them into a good seedbed with as near-perfect seed-to-soil contact as possible.”

Getting started before the ground is ready and is too wet can lead to problems, including compaction, clodding and getting equipment stuck in the field.  

In addition to unfriendly weather conditions, area farmers are faced with sagging market prices, which Edenburn said “have not reflected the weather challenges we’re having.”

Much of the problem is large surpluses.

“There’s a lot of corn and beans still floating out there,” Edenburn said. “South America’s (harvest) is doing pretty good. Russia has a good wheat harvest, so that has affected corn prices.”

If prices continue to be low, could some farmers consider venturing back into livestock production?

“There’s companies that are being very aggressive what they’re offering (farmers) to build hog ... buildings. They’re offering aggressive incentive packages to entice farmers.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

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