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Douglas County Agriculture update for the month of December 2019

By Larry W. Dallas, Douglas County Farm Bureau President 
 Harvest may finally be over in Douglas County or close anyway. Both planting and harvest were so strung out it was hard to tell when both actually ended. Northern Illinois lags behind with both corn and soybeans left in the field. In some cases, they are waiting for it to freeze hard enough to carry the combines. It is too soft otherwise. The moisture in the beans is also a problem. They just won’t dry down to the 13 or 14 percent that elevators want. 

The Upper Midwest has a lot of unharvested crops. The US Department of Agriculture reports only 43 percent of the corn in North Dakota is harvested and none of the larger corn-producing states are shown as finished. There are soybeans left to cut as well but the last USDA progress report didn’t have soybean numbers. In northern areas, it is expected a lot of those acres won’t be harvested until spring if at all. Soybeans go flat with much snow on them and corn falls over or loses its ears. You might turn cattle into the cornfields to salvage some value but the beans are likely a total loss.

The USDA has told us that the corn remaining in the field around the nation will be called on-farm stored in the upcoming crop reports. As you might imagine this has caused a lot of head-scratching. A bushel of corn safely in a grain bin is much different than a bushel still on the stalk and subject to nature in the outdoors. This has only added to the season-long dissatisfaction with the government reports. From including prevent plant acres in the planted corn acres to saying unharvested corn will have the same yield potential as that in the bin, the USDA reports have been a sore subject all year. Illinois Farm Bureau plans to put together ideas this winter for improving the government reports.

Whether because of the delayed harvest or on purpose, there seem to be more acres of unworked corn stalks this fall. Sixty years ago these stalk fields would all need to be plowed under, either on frozen ground or in the spring when it dried up. The secondary tillage tools and planters of that era could not cope with the aftermath of a corn crop. The moldboard plows of that time could barely go through the corn residue. Turning that residue under was the only way to handle it. 

The planters we use today will effectively plant into an untouched stalk field and give good results. No tilling a crop into corn stalks or a soybean stubble is pretty standard practice in many areas. Tillage tools have evolved as well to handle the increased residue of 225-bushel corn compared to 125-bushel corn. Improved herbicides are important in the way we farm now too. Weed-free seedbeds were once achieved with multiple tillage trips. Now an application of a non-selective herbicide can do the same thing.

At the beginning of December representatives of Illinois county Farm Bureaus gathered in Chicago for the 103rd Annual Meeting of the organization. There were fundraisers and awards sessions but the main purpose was to debate the policies we will follow in the coming year. Each county is represented proportionally by the membership at the open session to choose the language that will go into the 2020 policy book. The Illinois Farm Bureau Board and our representatives will use these policies as a template for especially our legislative priorities. The debate can vary widely and sometimes topics you would not think of becoming controversial.

At the same time, a new resolutions committee has been chosen. A county president from each of the 18 districts in the state is appointed to examine the existing policies and look at new policy submittals from the counties. These men and women will go through the policy book word by word to see if it meets the needs of this organization. Not every policy will need to be altered but the rapidly changing world we live in often means an old policy is inadequate for the present conditions. I have been on Resolutions twice. It is a deep look at the reasons behind what is in our policies and the chance to compare the issues that presidents in other parts of the state deal with.  

Farm Bureaus from around the country will meet in January for a similar policy meeting. Some of the new resolutions we passed for the Illinois Farm Bureau will be submitted to AFBF for inclusion in that organization’s policies. For the most part, the Farm Bureau is serious about having a policy map to follow in our lobbying and political interaction.

The trade situation continues to look up for agriculture. The US Mexico Canada trade agreement has gone to the Senate for approval after the House finally voted it through. I noted last month how important those countries are for Ag exports. Tentative agreements with the Chinese are being examined with a lot of speculation about what it all really means. We have seen before in this back and forth that what the US thinks has been agreed to and what China thinks can be two very different things. An interesting side note to the China tariff fight is that South America has exported so much corn to China this year, they may need to import US corn for feed until the southern hemisphere crop is ready. 

With fieldwork pretty well wound down, we have shifted into winter mode. The grain stored in the bins needs to be watched closely and we look at ours every ten days or so. We have one bin that we look at twice a week right now, unhappy with the condition of the corn in it. We bit the bullet on one small bin and emptied it out not long after harvest.  It wasn’t going to keep in the condition it was in and we were unlikely to improve it because the fan on the bin just didn’t move enough air. 

There is already a lot of planning for next year being done. Seed corn and soybean orders are being made and often paid for in an effort to grab good end of year discounts. We have yield maps generated by the combines for our fields and those are interesting to digest. Was this area of low yield caused by a drainage issue or was that the place the planter messed up and planted a half rate for a little while? Would different fertilization have made this field yield like the one across the road?

You likely will read this after Christmas so I hope that was enjoyable for everyone. At least in the Agricultural community, we hope for a New Year of better prices, kind weather and abundant yields. Most of us on the farm was ready for 2019 to be over sometime in late May during a thunderstorm. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.

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