Spring planting

A field planter waits for drier weather to allow seeding to take place in between rainstorms Wednesday in southeast Bloomington. Heavy rain over the past several weeks has caused area farmers to postpone planting, something that is normally underway by Mother's Day.

DECATUR — Farmers throughout Central Illinois are severely behind the five-year average when it comes to planting corn and are likely to fall further behind with more wet stuff expected today.

But a break in the weather may be close.

“We will have more rain Thursday and Friday over most of the state, with the heaviest in the northwestern portion of Illinois,” said State Climatologist Brian Kerschner. “But after that, it looks like it is going to dry out and then farmers may finally get the chance to get into the fields.”

Gene Dowd of rural Decatur said he is just anxious to get started.

“I am all ready to go,” he said. “But some of these fields have ponds in the middle of them. The hope is to get started somewhere and as you finish one field, another one is dry enough to start there.”

“A lot of us don’t even have nitrogen on yet,” said Cory Montgomery, who farms in rural McLean County. “It’s going to take four or five days to dry out once it stops raining. Some brisk winds would help.”

Monday’s Illinois crop progress and condition report from the USDA indicated 0.2 days — or roughly less than an hour — of the week ending May 5 was suitable for fieldwork. That figure may not be much better this week, since saturated and sometimes flooded fields kept planters in a holding pattern.

Across the state, precipitation averaged 3.22 inches for May, so far, which is 2.33 inches above normal.

Corn planted across the state as of May 5 reached 10 percent, compared to 68 percent last year and 66 percent for the five-year average. Somewhere, according to the USDA, some corn plants have emerged — about two percent. Also, the USDA reports, about three percent of planned soybean acreage is in the ground.

But the heavy rain that fell April 30 through May 2 postponed plans to get spring planting started, since as much as 4 inches of precipitation in some spots left fields under water. 

“I still look at this as the glass being half full,” said Bob Wells, a Yield Challenge Coordinator with the Illinois Soybean Association. “Everybody is thinking that this wait is so terrible compared to last year, but last year, we went through one of the coldest Aprils on record and then we turned around and had one of the warmest Mays on record. It’s funny how quickly things can turn.”

Larger equipment and better drainage systems in the fields also will benefit farmers in the next few weeks, said Wells, who grew up on a farm in Farmer City and now lives in Bement in Piatt County.

“Fields are now designed to drain so much more quickly than they did 40 years ago,” he said. “All of this rain is adding to the water table and so if we go through a period where it is dry, the impact will be reduced.”

Still, farmers can expect some yield loss as a result of the late planting. For soybeans, Wells said a rule of thumb is a loss of one-quarter of a bushel per acre per day for each day after May 1. For corn, the estimate is a loss of about one bushel per acre for each day after May 1.

“But if all else goes well, then that is still a pretty good year,” he said. “Even if it were late May, I still think farmers should be optimistic that they can have a good harvest in the fall.”

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Contact Kevin Barlow at (309) 820-3238. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_barlow


Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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