By Larry W. Dallas, President
Douglas County Farm Bureau
March has continued a lot like the rest of the winter with wide swings of temperature and plenty of precipitation. Last winter the field tile scarcely ran because there was little water in the ground. The tile is running this winter and surface streams as well. We have a good supply of soil moisture to start the growing season. The upper Midwest is experiencing flooding due to heavy snow and rain, in an area that struggled to finish harvest last fall. Most farmers would be happy with some drier weather.
Local grain elevators are beginning to waive the storage fees on incoming grain. Some grain is moving off the farm with that encouragement. We would prefer not to have to worry about the condition of farm-stored grain during the busy spring season. The grain in our bins becomes harder to keep in condition as the temperatures start to warm up. The cold mass of grain in the bins needs to be warmed to close to outside temperatures. Free storage at the elevator gives us a little longer to hope for better prices.
Prices continue to be a sore point. Even good news on the trade front fails to move prices very much. The grain industry wants proof that our differences with China have been resolved, not just encouraging talk. World supplies of corn, soybeans, and wheat are too big for the current world demand, a consequence of several good crops in a row. South American weather has been uneven in their growing season. Large areas were first too dry then too wet during harvest, but they are going to raise good crops and add to the world grain supplies. Locally, basis, the difference between our price and the Chicago Board of Trade price, has not narrowed up as usual after harvest. Marketing for a profit is always hard and about impossible right now.
We continue to ready our equipment for spring planting. We will run our planter units on a test stand to make sure they are planting at the desired population and spacing. The individual units are adjusted to do that or components replaced to accomplish that. We would like our corn to be evenly spaced in each row and all at the same depth as well. Until the 1970s, farmers checked their planters by getting off and digging behind the machine. The first monitors simply showed if a seed was coming out of each unit, via a flashing light. These were a marvel to the guys that had been guessing and digging their entire farming career. The monitor we use now is coupled to global positioning and tells us the population and spacing in each row and population can be changed in the tractor cab. Some will change the population as the planter moves through the field from one soil type to another according to a prescription planned ahead of time. A further advance controls depth by tracking down pressure on each row and adjusting to changing conditions. We would like evenly spaced plants all emerging at the same time. Electronics let us do that.
Few people in this area got all of their fall work done to prepare for this 2019 crop. Northern areas got even less done. This will put a big rush on for this spring. Some still want to do major tillage. Some are changing the way they approach fertilization and planting. We would like to get more of our nitrogen on before we plant. We got that done in February last year. It does not look like we will be in the field early this year unless weather trends change a lot.
Nitrogen logistics figure prominently in late spring when little fall work was done. Nitrogen can be applied in the fall, before planting or after the crop is up. More farmers are using a combination of all three. In this area, three forms of nitrogen are used: a gas, a liquid, and a dry formulation. In what we think of as a normal year, the part of Illinois above Route 16 will put a lot of their nitrogen on in the fall as anhydrous ammonia, the gas version. Southern Illinois farmers generally do not put nitrogen on in the fall. Warmer temperatures south of here increase the chance of losing it out of the soil. Little nitrogen went on in this area last fall so we will be competing with the farmers in Southern Illinois for a finite supply of anhydrous ammonia. The infrastructure can’t supply enough product for the whole state to run at the same time. The best situation would be if some areas of the state would dry out ahead of others and allow them to finish nitrogen before other areas start. Of course, we would like East Central Illinois to be that area that runs first.
As noted, nitrogen applications can be made at various times during the growing season. That flexibility will help us get the crop planted on time. We have always hesitated to go to a complete after planting program of fertilization in case the weather doesn’t give us time for that trip. There have been years when too much rain kept us out of the field to make herbicide applications in a timely manner. Some operations don’t hesitate to plan to apply their nitrogen that way. It is just something we aren’t willing to try. Switching to the other forms is also a possibility, but these are generally more expensive than anhydrous ammonia.
We are making herbicide decisions too, and looking at how that can be done if our spring work is telescoped together. A program of a total over the top weed killers would let us go plant and not worry about the sprayer staying ahead of the planter. There is a multitude of products with various strengths and weaknesses. Farmers have a lot of decisions to make before we go to the field. We hope we are making the right ones. The crop will get planted. We hope it is in a timely manner. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.