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Farmers use winter months to prep for spring

By Larry W. Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau

December in Douglas County agriculture was pretty quiet. Virtually all the tillage and fertilization farmers want to do this fall is done, assisted by dry weather. Little grain is moving off the farm at this point. The prices of corn and soybeans aren’t attractive enough to spur farmer selling of grain. After the work of putting grain into farm storage bins, we would like a better price out of it than when we put it in. We continue to clean and repair the equipment we used this fall. Some are thinking about what needs to be done to the things we will use in the spring as well. A little concern about the continued dry weather is creeping into our conversations. Good precipitation will be needed by spring to recharge our groundwater.

One activity that has continued with the dry weather is the installation of drainage tile. Despite the tight margins in agriculture at present, improving the drainage of farmland remains common. There is good return to an investment in field tile for the poorly drained soils of Douglas County. Speeding the exit of excess water from the ground with tile aids plant growth and adds to productivity. It is rare to find a Douglas County field without some tile in it, usually a clay tile dug in by hand-and leveled by eyeball- a hundred years ago to drain a pond or the wet edge of a hill. The tile was very possibly made close by since Douglas County had tile factories. Today it will be plastic tubing installed by machine with laser or global positioning technology and nearly always in a whole field system rather than random runs to the worst places in a field. Tile installation is aided by the fore-thought of our ancestors. Much of the county has larger main collector tiles that the individual fields can be hooked onto. The mains lead to rivers and streams to outlet the water from the fields. These are also often 100 years old and undersized for the way we install tile today, but it is a relief to know you have ‘a good main’ in a field you want to tile.

The first weekend in December members and delegates of Illinois Farm Bureau gathered in Chicago. We debated Farm Bureau policy in a process that started last March. At that time, county presidents from each of the 18 districts of Illinois Farm Bureau began to examine existing policy for relevance and application to today’s problems. They also looked at submittals from around the state for inclusion in the policy handbook that we use as a pattern for the coming year. Farm Bureau prides itself as being a grassroots organization. Our policy comes from the membership up, not from the state board or employees down. The process culminates at our annual meeting when a day or more is spent debating changes to old policy and inclusion of new points and statements. A submittal from Douglas County dealing with conservation payments to partnerships and other non-individual entities made it into the Illinois Farm Bureau policy book this year and will be debated for inclusion in American Farm Bureau policy this January at that annual meeting.

Also at the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual meeting there was recognition of program excellence for the past year. Douglas County Farm Bureau won several awards for our program of work the last year and special mention for activities of our Marketing Committee and Young Leaders group. In addition to being a grass roots organization, Farm Bureau is a volunteer organization. Our members have been the strength and heart of the Douglas County Farm Bureau for almost 100 years.

I have talked a lot about conservation and nutrient management initiatives we are undertaking as farmers. To help quantify and put value on these activities, around 30 farm organizations have started Precision Conservation Management. Those contributing to PCM include Illinois Farm Bureau, the University of Illinois, IL Corn Growers and the farm management cooperative Farm Business Farm Management, with matching funds from United States Dept. of Agriculture. These organizations are contributing funds to help farmers see the value of the practices they use on their crop acres. This blending of economic analysis with conservation practices should show farmers, and landlords, what the value of a particular program or change in farming management will be. As a farmer I can see that changing the timing of my nitrogen applications might lead to better yields or less nitrogen loss, but I don’t know if it will pay for me to make that change. PCM will put a value on this change and enable me to decide if that change should be made. A coordinator has been hired for a five-county area including Douglas, Champaign, Edgar, Ford and Vermillion counties. He has 61 cooperators so far and hopes to reach 100 farms in the area. Googling Precision Conservation Management will take you to a website that explains the mission of PCM much better than I have, and tell you how to contact the local coordinator if you are interested in this program.

PCM is just one of many farmer initiatives to help us with our environmental responsibility while maintaining profitability. This week Illinois Farm Bureau announced they are awarding $100,000 of stewardship grants to 18 Farm Bureaus in the state for mainly water quality and nutrient loss reduction research projects. This is the second year of these grants. They are often paired with other partners like the Natural Resources Conservation Service or local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to expand the benefit of the funding. The local Farm Bureau, cooperating farmers and other entities are devoting time, effort and their own dollars to help with these programs. We as farmers know that we have to be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us, and we are using our own money, time and land to help find the ways that will benefit not only farmers but the country as a whole.

Winter is meeting time for farmers, and we have started those already with herbicide applicator training and economic seminars upcoming. The applicator training is mandatory and maybe the economic seminars are as well with the tight margins we face this year. Thank you for reading about Douglas County Agriculture this month.

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