CLINTON — DeWitt County farmer Marvin Finfrock was able to breathe a small sigh of relief this week while planting corn near Wapella.
“It’s been a challenging year,” he said. “It was cold and wet early, and it’s hot and dry now. So, it’s been interesting, but most of us have been able to catch up during the past 10 days and a lot of us are kind of in the home stretch now.”
At the end of April, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that 32 percent of the corn crop had been planted in Illinois. By May 6, the estimate grew to 74 percent.
Near Forsyth, Roger Sturm said he also made up a lot of ground in the past week.
“When you have a late spring, you get nervous and somewhat stir crazy, because you feel like you should be doing something, but you can’t,” he said. “But once you get rolling, it’s not easy to stop until the rain forces you to.”
“We all have auto-steer machinery now and that makes a big difference in being able to catch up,” noted Finfrock. “With the auto-steer, we can push and work longer hours. We really shouldn’t, but we have to in order to make a living anymore. You aren’t there battling a steering wheel all day and so you can sit here and watch your planter and make sure everything is on-line and working.”
A year ago at this time, the USDA reported about 65 percent of the corn crop was in the ground. Over the past five years, the average was 56 percent on or around May 6.
“The thing about farming is that we all have bigger equipment and so when we fall behind, it is not as critical as it might have been years ago, because it takes us less time to catch up,” said Finfrock. “The thing about farming now is that there are fewer farmers now but still the same acreage. But I’m just thrilled that the weather is finally cooperating.”
The USDA reported the precipitation for the spring was near normal in most parts of Central Illinois with 76 percent described as “adequate.”
Many farmers also are trying to get an early start on soybean planting. The preferred planting dates for soybeans are generally between late April and early June, according to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
In Illinois, about 29 percent of the soybeans had been planted by May 6 — up from 14 percent last year and the five-year average of 12 percent.
According to the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, the crop weather model produces an estimate that the average soybean yield is decreased by 0.05 bushels per acre for each percentage of the crop that is planted after May 25.
“If we assume that 12 suitable field days are needed between May 1 and May 25 to plant the soybean crop given current conditions, historical distributions for Illinois, indicate there is about a 60 and 70 percent chance of this occurring,” said Scott Irwin, a professor at the U of I.
Farmers should find the weather to their liking for the next week. Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Lincoln say there is a slight chance of rain nearly every day through Wednesday, but there are no strong systems approaching.
As they get their crops in the fields, farmers also must contend this year with some uncertainty about what the market will be like when they're harvested. Chinese buyers last week began canceling orders for U.S. soybeans in the wake of an escalating trade battle between the two countries, and farmers in China are being encouraged to plant more soy, apparently to offset the loss from the United States.
Beijing has included soybeans on a list of $50 billion of U.S. exports on which it has said it would impose 25 percent tariffs if the United States follows through on its threats to impose the same level of tariffs on the same value of Chinese goods. The U.S. tariffs could kick in later this month; China would likely retaliate soon after.
Illinois is the top soybean-producing state in the U.S., which sends one of every three soybeans grown in the country to China.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has acknowledged that the tariffs would hurt Central Illinois farmers, but said he hopes President Donald Trump's administration will be able to negotiate to avoid them.
"If there still is an impact on this community, Illinois agriculture," Davis told a crowd of business leaders in Decatur last month, "then you’ll be seeing a lot of us fighting like heck to change that impact."