By Larry Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau
It is the middle of June and there is still planting to be done in Douglas County. For the most part, farmers have given up planting corn. The yield potential for soybeans is decreasing rapidly as well with the calendar well past what would be optimum planting time. The weather did not allow us an extended planting window until the end of May and the first part of June. Progress was in two or three-day spurts until then. Some soybeans were going in dry dirt by the end of that window. Normal temperatures and a lot of wind used up the surface moisture quickly.
We have the capacity to put the crop in quickly. The few days we were allowed to work this spring were long ones. The conditions we planted this crop in were never what would be called ideal. It is still possible to see where farmers worked around standing water and places that wouldn’t support farm equipment. Precipitation has been above average since last fall and many places would not dry out. It was possible this spring to imagine Douglas County as the swamp that the first settlers here saw. Fields with tile systems for drainage were better, but even those were slow to dry out this year.
The unfamiliar term Prevent Plant, at least for Central Illinois, has become very common this year. Crop insurance coverage in this part of Illinois begins to decrease after June 5 for corn and June 20 for soybeans. This reflects the likelihood that crops planted after those dates will yield less than average and less than the insurance coverage. Crop insurance allows the farmer to plant no crop and get a reduced insurance payment on those acres instead of planting a crop and incurring costs that might not be covered by the resulting harvest. Prevent Plant is not as simple as I have made it sound and many factors enter into the decision. Most watchers of the situation think there will be record Prevent Plant all over the Corn Belt, instead of the localized problem areas of past seasons. Farm Bureau and its insurance arm Country Mutual have so far presented three online seminars to try to help farmers figure out what to do.
The late planted crop has another set of concerns even after it is in the ground. Very few fields were planted in ideal conditions. Soil compaction will certainly limit root growth and make the plants more susceptible to dry weather. We created a lot of soil compaction this spring as we tried to get everything planted. Late planted corn and soybeans run the risk of not maturing before the frost hits them and stops the growing season. Late planted corn will likely be high in moisture at harvest and cost more to condition for storage. Dry weather doesn’t seem to be in the cards but it has been cool and we are accumulating growing degree days slowly. Our late planted crops need warm, sunny days to bring them along to maturity.
The grain markets have begun to realize this crop isn’t going into the ground in good circumstance and we might not have another record production year. Corn prices have gone up about 80 cents a bushel in the last six weeks. The U.S Department of Agriculture has already cut both corn acres and corn yield in their last crop estimate. It is uncommon for them to change the numbers this early in the growing season. Soybean prices have gone up as well, although not as much yet. Ordinarily, trouble planting corn means more acres of soybeans. Planting is so delayed this year that even soybean acres are in question.
The above average precipitation has effects to agriculture beyond delayed planting. The Midwest river system has been closed off and on all spring. High water makes navigation dangerous and in some cases, the water has been deep enough to prevent the operation of the lock and dam network that lets the barge traffic move up and down the rivers. Fertilizer barges were slow to move into the interior from the New Orleans port this spring and grain movement down the river has been curtailed as well. The third week of June there was 27 ocean-going ships were anchored at New Orleans, unable to unload cargo or load a fresh cargo to leave with since no barges were moving on the river. The charge for anchoring is $25,000 a day so this is a huge added cost on fertilizer imported into the U.S. or a shipload of grain leaving for export.
During some of the long hours in the tractor, I heard a reference to the problem of antibiotic resistance because of antibiotic use in animal agriculture. A recent farm magazine, Progressive Farmer, has a very good article about this supposed problem. First and foremost it noted that the majority of antibiotics are used either in animals or humans but not both. The antibiotics used in animal production are administered under strict regulations and with veterinarian oversight. In the past, low levels of antibiotics were sometimes fed as a preventative measure. That is no longer done. Antibiotics are administered only in response to disease or sometimes to stressed animals to prevent a problem. This might be a case like when moving a group of cattle into a feedlot or putting a new flock of chickens into a broiler house. There are strict withdrawal periods after antibiotic use before an animal can be slaughtered as well.
Admittedly an article about antibiotic use in a farm magazine is probably going to be favorable to agriculture. There has been exhaustive research on the matter. This article says there is no data that shows a connection between animal agriculture and antibiotic resistance in humans. A 2013 report from the Center for Disease Control says that 50% of the antibiotics prescribed for humans are not needed or not effective. We are probably all guilty of asking the doctor to please give us something, and they often do. If you continue to be concerned about resistant bacteria in meat, the article in Progressive Farmer says to cook the meat thoroughly. That is just common sense.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month. We complain about the weather constantly. I hope I have helped you understand what the delayed planting can mean to us and to the area.