By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau
There has been very little field activity so far in December. Some fertilizer was applied, or stalks chiseled, when the ground was frozen enough to hold a tractor up but for the most part we have been at a standstill on fieldwork. We have changed oil in a couple tractors and done some other maintenance. A heated shop is nice on a raw Illinois day, and we spend a lot of time in ours. We spent a couple days cutting back trees and sprouts along fencerows and house lots. Most Mondays we take a load of hay to the Arthur Sale Barn for the hay auction. Down there we get a glimpse of a little different kind of agriculture than the corn and beans we see every day.
I spent part of a day renewing my pesticide applicators license. To purchase and apply many of the weed and insect controls we use, farmers have to undergo training every three years. This year there were four hours of lectures about various aspects of pesticide labeling, use and safety by University of Illinois Extension and then a 50-question test administered by Illinois Department of Agriculture. There were around 200 people taking the training. The education is fairly intense, and the test isn’t all that easy. The consumer should be assured that we use pesticides intelligently and carefully.
Another farmer sent me an email he had received from a person concerned farmers would wear the soil out and be unable to produce food. I remember from history class that one reason given for the colonists in early America moving west was the soil was worn out and they needed new fields. We have been farming in Douglas County for around 150 years. Productivity continues to go up, however; even after that period of time. When the US Department of Agriculture begins to estimate next year’s crop size, they will use a trend line yield slightly higher than the preceding year and be close to correct barring a severe weather problem. Better farming techniques, hybrid seeds and the technology I have talked so much about all contribute to this productivity.
I have also talked a lot about soil testing to see what nutrients are in the soil and what need to be added. The big crops we have been raising remove a lot of nutrients and farmers are careful to replenish those essential factors for plant growth. A bushel of corn removes about .4 pounds of phosphorus and .3 pounds of potassium, two of the most important plant nutrients, from the soil. If these are not replaced, soil productivity will soon drop off. One philosophy of fertilization is to replace the nutrients removed when the crop is harvested. If we can couple fertilizer application with a yield map and global positioning application, this may be the best way to apply fertilizer. Right now, most fertilizer is applied based on soil tests done in a grid pattern with GPS. A target is chosen for the level of a certain nutrient in the soil and fertilizer is applied to reach or maintain that level. A test every three or four years benchmarks those levels for us.
Some think that the use of fertilizer is masking the damage we are doing to the soil. I don’t understand that point of view. We are maintaining the soil to be able to grow good crops next year and the years after. The swampy prairie that covered most of the county prior to modern times was good at holding the soil in place and gave us the deep black soil we farm now. It wasn’t a big food producer, however. Modern agriculture is feeding the world and keeping the soil in shape to do that again next year as well. In reading farm publications, I find a great awareness of the need to farm responsibly and sustainably. I think the industry is making great strides to that end.
On the first weekend of December, Farm Bureau members from around the state gathered in Chicago to debate policy, reward activity excellence and reconnect with old friends from past meetings. We call ourselves a grassroots organization. The policy discussion comes from the bottom up as the counties surface proposed changes and additions to our policy book. A president from each of the 18 districts in the state serves on a resolutions committee to look at these proposals and forward them on to the Annual Meeting. In Chicago, representatives from every county debate the proposals that will make up the policy book. That book is 100 pages long and deals with just about anything that affects farming and rural life. It gives us and our representatives a template to follow in our discussions and lobbying for the coming year. The process will start all over again in March when a new Resolutions Committee is appointed.
In Chicago we were lucky to hear from US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. He spoke to the delegates for half an hour and ate lunch with some of our people as well. The Secretary has been very visible in the Corn Belt at meetings and conventions. He was of course upbeat about resolving trade problems and passing a Farm Bill out of the US Congress. We have seen progress on both fronts. A Farm Bill did get passed in Congress and China is back in the market for our soybeans. The markets were not impressed with the trade news and actually went down a dime the day the first sale was announced. I have not seen a good summary of the Farm Bill and can’t give an opinion on what the good and bad parts are.
An important winter chore for farmers is checking the grain we have stored on farm. We try to look at our grain bins about every two weeks and make sure the contents are in good shape. The bins we can get into we walk around in feeling the grain for moisture and heat. Some are so full we just open the roof hatch and look in. Those need to be emptied first since they can’t be reliably checked. On cold nights you can sometimes hear aeration fans running as farmers cool the stored grain closer to the outside temperature.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County Agriculture this month. Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!