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Watch now: Summer-like weather beckons Macon County farmers into fields

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DECATUR — High temperatures, and no rain, kicked local planting efforts into high gear this week.

“It’s not dry everywhere,” farmer Paul Butler said Tuesday of his fields in southern Macon County. “We want to plant in good conditions, because if we don’t, we can hurt our yield later in the year. Planting late can also hurt.”

Sporadic rains in April and May have made getting into the fields a challenge.

Although it is not uncommon for farmers to enter their fields for the first time in mid-May, they have been anxious to get started.

“We’ve all been doing that ugly little dance,” Butler said.

This past week’s weather provided wind, sun and heat, all important for drying out the fields. “All three together can change things in a couple of days around here pretty quick,” Butler said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, soil temperature in Illinois was nearly three degrees below normal in the first week of May. Only 7% of the corn had been planted by May 1, compared to 50% in 2021. Five percent of the soybean fields had been planted, versus 38% the year before.

Further west in Macon County, Mike Stacy was able to enter his field near Niantic more than a week ago. “But we haven’t planted anything else since last Monday,” he said this week. “Cold temperatures and cloudy weather does not dry the ground out very well.”

The short time slot allowed Stacy to plant 1,000 acres. “We’re about half done,” he said on Monday. “We have some fields that are just a little too wet.”

The approaching days and weeks are going to be busy work days.

“We like to have it wrapped up by this time,” Stacy said. “So when we get in the fields, well, it’s going to be long days.”

On Thursday, Brent Ulrey had just begun preparing a field east of Decatur. “We’ve still had to go around some of the water,” he said.

“It was good to see that tractors were rolling,” Macon County Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Tim Stock said.

In Kankakee visit, Biden spotlights role of US farms

The modern equipment has been designed to speed the planting and harvesting process up. “With these high speed planters, the guys are able to do a lot in a short amount of time,” Stock said.

Butler farms near Argenta, Latham and Forsyth as well as Macon. He utilizes the equipment’s auto-steer capabilities on his equipment. “The tractor basically drives itself,” he said.

The advanced equipment relieves some of the stress on farmers. “With the GPS, where the tractor drives itself through the fields, you don’t get as tired through the day,” Stacy said.

By lunch time on Thursday, Ulrey had already prepared seven fields. He takes advantage of the automated driving capabilities as well as the automatic sprayer. “If you’ve already sprayed something, it automatically shuts off,” he said.

The extra rain during the first week of May provided moisture needed for the soil, according to the farmers. It was helpful to get the crop started.

“But we definitely need the heat to get the ground temp up above the germination point,” Stock said. “If we have some moisture down in the soil, it’s definitely going to be to the seed’s advantage.”

Safety is another concern for farmers.

Longer hours in the field are expected. “Since they are trying to get this crop in as quick as they can,” Stock said.

Farmers use city and rural roads to transport the large equipment. Safety is important to all when traveling. “We’re only supposed to run 30 miles an hour down the road,” Ulrey said.

Farmers use all the lights available on the heavy machinery and move to the side of the road when a vehicle approaches.

“We try to be aware of our surroundings,” Stacy said. “But we can’t always just pull off the edge of the road as soon as we see somebody.”


Farm Focus: How agricultural keeps driving the Central Illinois economy

Take a look at this year's special Farm Focus section, which showcases Central Illinois agricultural producers. Have a story idea for our next edition? Email scott.perry@lee.net

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Contact Donnette Beckett at (217) 421-6983. Follow her on Twitter: @donnettebHR

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