By Larry W. Dallas
President, Douglas County Farm Bureau
August has been pretty typical so far. Some parts of the county have had good rain and other sections are drying out. Crop progress is still running ahead of average. Some cornfields look like early September with dry shucks on the ears and dead leaves on the lower stalks. A very few fields of early beans have yellow leaves in them. Hot dry weather will speed along maturity. Cool weather with some rain will slow it down.
The appearance of the crops is speeding our preparation for harvest as we realize it might be here sooner than usual. We have shuffled our planting equipment to the back of the shed and moved the harvest and heavy tillage tools to the front. The work needed to ready an implement for use might vary from a quick once over and greasing all the way to a major rebuild of a corn head or replacement of a combine component.
The difficulty of what a farmer will tackle varies greatly depending on the individual. We try to do the jobs that require mainly time and basic mechanic skills ourselves. Engine work and major rebuilds seem better left to the implement dealer with trained mechanics and specialized tools to facilitate the job.
There are grain bins to sweep and aeration fans to check over. We have looked at the soil test schedule we maintain to see what fields need to be tested for nutrient levels this year. We try to test each field every three to four years. This gives us an updated snapshot of the nutrients present in a field, and we base our fertilizer applications accordingly. Mowing continues, and we have been doing one of our least favorite tasks, cleaning up equipment. My brother commented it is too bad the tractors and combine look so good when we have washed and waxed them.
The approach of harvest brings numerous estimates of what the crop size might be. A much-watched tour is starting out on both sides of the Corn Belt the week of Aug. 20 and will conclude when the groups meet in Minnesota Aug. 23.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) made their first harvest estimate Aug. 10. They figured on a record corn yield and very good bean numbers, resulting in a sharp drop in the prices of both commodities. Illinois would lead the nation in both corn and soybean production by this report.
The Douglas County Farm Bureau Marketing Group made its annual crop tour before the USDA report. Based on 42 samples from around the county, we estimate the average corn yield at 212 bushels per acre, depending on the size of the kernels at harvest. That is six bushels better than last year’s estimate and close to last year’s official number of 211. The group has a good track record for estimating the county yield, and we will see how close we guessed this year. It is just speculation until the combines roll into the field, because there are so many variables that go in to the final yield. Most farmers think we will have very good yields in the county this year.
In the last month I have participated in three different Farm Bureau meetings. Every year, the relevance of Illinois Farm Bureau policy is examined according to present conditions by a committee of presidents from each of the 18 districts in the state.
That group also looks at policy submittals from the counties or changes individual counties think are important. I represent our district this year. We debated what changes to include for discussion at the annual meeting in December. Illinois Farm Bureau uses the results of the debate to shape our activities and initiatives in the coming year.
We call ourselves a grassroots organization and the policy comes from the members up, not the top down. All of the county Farm Bureau presidents met late in July. We had discussions about pressing state and national issues. It is valuable to get together with the other presidents and compare problems and issues.
In addition to these meetings, I was fortunate to participate in a Farm Bureau advisory team trip to Chicago. Led by Farm Bureau staff, we toured the largest water treatment plant in the world and met with staff at US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 and Illinois Pollution Control Board (ICPB). The water treatment people have some of the same problems agriculture has with nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. I thought the meetings with the regulators at U.S. EPA and IPCB were very good. It gave them a chance to see and hear from the people they are regulating. The Farm Bureau group of 15 people talked about what we are doing on our farms to slow nutrient loss, provide pollinator and wildlife habitat and prevent soil erosion.
At the State Fair this month, Farm Bureau and the livestock groups in the state rolled out an initiative to emphasize the importance of animal agriculture to the Illinois economy. We tend to talk a lot about exports of grain out of the state, but hogs and cattle are important in-state users of our corn and beans as well.
The livestock industry in Illinois also is a major employer, not only in direct animal care but in construction jobs, processing and transportation. Livestock enterprises have always been a way to bring the next generation back to the farm, and that continues today. It is painfully hard to add enough land to an operation to bring a son or daughter into the operation, but livestock can add income on an existing land base.
In keeping with today’s movement for the consumer to know where their food comes from, some livestock farms around the state are making their own cheese along with their dairy operations or selling meat from their animals directly to the consumer. One of the participants on the Chicago trip I spoke of earlier came back to the farm in Southern Illinois and developed a 120-cow beef herd, selling mainly breeding stock. His next step is to start either a food truck or a catering service to use the beef from his cull animals. We don’t see a lot of animals on farms in Douglas County, but livestock farms are an important and integral part of agriculture.
There is always a lot of speculation as to when harvest will actually start and this year is no different. We appear to be running ahead of average so it won’t be long before we are on the roads again moving from field to field. Combines especially are slow moving and hard to maneuver. Please watch out for us on the roads this fall. Thank you for reading this month’s comments about Douglas County agriculture.