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January Douglas County agriculture news

By Larry Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau

January in Douglas County agriculture has been spent inside as much as possible. The road conditions, temperatures and grain prices have slowed the movement of grain off the farm. I have spent a lot of January days in the past in line at the elevator to deliver grain sold for early in the year, but there is less of that the past few years. Grain delivered last fall was sold, but the check deferred until January to provide working funds until the weather improves. We did have to deliver some non-genetically modified beans we had stored on the farm when the buyer called for them. Luckily the weather had moderated that week.

Trucks are still on the road moving grain to the processors in Decatur on about any day or road condition. They need a steady supply of corn and beans to keep the processes going. The activities over there aren’t as simple as sticking a thousand bushels of corn into a machine and having finished product at the end. A process might include the use of reclaimed water from one part of the process into another part. Byproducts of one process can go to be used in a different process. We were asked once to provide corn for a test to see if a certain variety of corn would be better in a certain process. They needed 10,000 bushels of the same variety to run the process all the way through to see if that variety was better than the comingled corn they had been using. We didn’t have a bin of that much corn of one variety. Feeding all the activity requires a constant supply. The Decatur processors use a million bushels of corn each and every day. That takes a lot of trucks and rail cars and that is why you see loaded semis headed west in about any weather.

Winter has always been a season to look back at the year behind us and plan for the year ahead. A good hard freeze has always been thought to thin out overwintering bugs in the fields, but I heard lately that temperature swings may do a better job of that than extended wintry weather. Insect eggs, larvae and even adults have a tougher time dealing with radical swings of temperature than consistent cold or warm was the theory of this person.

The information we gather as we plant and harvest is crunched and correlated to see what we can learn from the last year. There is a lot more of that information with the advent of global positioning correlated maps from planting, harvest and in-season shots. Soil maps, fertilizer application and planting maps can be related to maps from harvest to see what worked and what didn’t. A new set of businesses have sprung up to help us manage that data and put it in useable form. Our marketing group recently heard a speaker from a company that is making successive low-level airplane flights with high resolution cameras. The picture is good enough to see the rows of crop in the field and even individual weeds in the field. Farmers know that we should be scouting our fields in season for insects and disease, but it is hard to force yourself into head-high corn when it is 85 degrees and humid. An aerial photo like this could direct a farmer to a specific area in the field to look for a problem.

The American Farm Bureau Federation held its annual meeting in early January and about 500 Illinois members attended. The meeting runs much like Illinois Farm Bureau’s meeting with awards given and policy debated. President Trump spoke to the gathering and talked briefly about the North American Free Trade Agreement. U.S. trade policy remains a concern for Farm Bureau and farmers in general. Thirty percent of the American farmer’s cash income is derived from exports of agricultural products. It is urgent that we maintain the worldwide connections that help us move our products around the globe. Mexico bought $2.5 billion of U.S. corn last year. China bought $21.4 billion of U.S. beans in 2016. U.S. pork goes to South Korea, and China is a new market for our beef. Countries around the world are buying our ethanol as they try to clean up auto emissions. American farmers rely on export markets. The trade agreements of recent years have been beneficial to us, and we want those to stay in place and be strengthened.

Winter is meeting season, and there are any number of opportunities for learning and networking. I have on my desk right now notices for meetings about marketing, planter attachments, soil conservation, soybean production and crop insurance. When we were hauling beans last week we missed meetings on cover crops and drainage. I personally will be going on an Illinois Farm Bureau advisory team that will meet a few times to talk about natural resources and conservation. I have read that a meeting was worth your time if you take one thing away from that meeting. The number of meetings a person can tolerate varies by the individual, but the opportunity to learn something, improve production techniques or influence policy is easy to find this time of year.

Thank you for reading this January update on Douglas County Agriculture. The next time you see a bunch of pickup trucks at a restaurant they might be drinking coffee and learning something.

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