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Douglas County Farm Bureau President’s agriculture update for May

By Larry W Dallas
Field activity in Douglas County has been start and stop, with a long layoff at the end of April and beginning of May. We were still able to get all of our corn and most of our soybeans planted before we had done anything last year. May 14 was the first day we planted in 2019 so we feel ahead of the game. The years have a similar feel though, with the long rain delays.

That said, the crops have had a rough go of it so far. The colder than average temperatures slowed germination. The first corn we planted April 10 was in the ground nearly a month before emerging, at about the same time as corn planted 10 days later. Corn emerges after 90 to 120 growing degree days. GDDs are calculated with a formula that uses 50 degrees as its lower temperature. Corn does not grow below 50 degrees. We have had many days that temperature did not reach 50 degrees. It has been hard to accumulate the heat necessary to germinate crops this year.

Our corn finally has a good green color with the heat of the last few days. One person I read said his corn was neon yellow from the cold. The frost/freeze of May 3 doesn’t appear to have caused damage in this area. Farther north I know that beans will have to be replanted. The growing point was killed and the plants have died. Corn with its growing point still underground survived. The visible growth might be burned off but the plant can survive that if the growing point is undamaged. 

 We will have corn to replant. Standing water suffocates corn quickly and there has been plenty of that in the county. The Kaskaskia has been out twice in May and caused most of our damage. In other areas, the saturated soil is cooler and has slowed the progress of the corn plants. The verdict is out on if those will go ahead and come up. Some farmers rotary hoed their corn trying to break up crusted soil and help the corn plants out of the ground. 

The problems of the meatpackers with coronavirus have been prominent in the news. After the number of animals processed had fallen to about half of pre – coronavirus numbers, slaughter numbers of both cattle and hogs have risen the last two weeks. They are presently at about 80 percent of the numbers two months ago. It is hoped that the packers can quickly get back to the previous numbers of animals they were handling. I have read that there was a lot of preparation for destroying animals that could not be processed but there had been very little of that done. That is good news.

 There is a good demand for meat. China has bought a lot of pork in the last month or so. With the stay at home restrictions, consumers are buying more meat to prepare meals at home. I have not noticed any empty slots in the local meat case. My sister in Austin Texas reports restrictions on the amount of meat you can purchase there, and a poor selection as well. This will be regional I imagine, as the industry gets back to normal. 

The chairman of large poultry producer Tyson Foods famously said in late April that the food chain was breaking. He forecasted meat shortages and the destruction of large numbers of animals. It appears we are past the worst of the packing plant closures and we all hope this was a faulty forecast. This episode should show the consumer how complicated the system that brings them food is and how unexpected events can upset the whole thing, at least temporarily. We hear about produce being plowed under because there are no laborers to harvest the crop. That is unfortunate in the lost food and lost profit all along the way. 

Logistics are a large part of this food supply problem, things you didn’t think of in the past. I talked last month about the fact that the grocery store needs different size cuts of meat than the restaurant market does. This morning I heard there is a shortage of one dozen size egg cartons for grocery stores. Eggs for institutional use travel in 30 egg trays or in liquid form, not dozen size cartons. Restaurant use of eggs has dried up but groceries are selling many more. A bakery would use 50-pound sacks of flour. We buy 5 pounds at a time.

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