Douglas County Farm Bureau President’s July agriculture update

By: Larry W. Dallas
We had corn tassels by July 4. The heat in June moved the corn forward and it began to pollinate at what we think of as a normal time. By pollinating earlier the corn stands a better chance of being dry this fall for harvest. Of course, the replant and very late-planted fields are only shoulder high right now. None of our corn is even as we would like it to be. It has gotten tall enough to hide a lot of the ponds and replant areas and at least looks better from the road. 

The soybeans are a deep green color but it seems to me they don’t grow very fast. Looking at a field frequently doesn’t seem to help.  We are pleased with the weed control in most of our soybeans. Hopefully, that will hold until harvest. Weed control right now in a soybean field is mostly limited to chopping with a hoe. We don’t walk fields as we did in the past but we still will go cut an unsightly patch of weeds by hand. 

 One of our weather sources says that we are 10 inches of rain ahead of the average for this time of year. That helps explain why this spring was so much fun.  That didn’t all fall during the growing season and it isn’t all stored in the soil either. Heat increases the water needs of the growing crop and rain through the year is necessary for good yields. We are fortunate that our prairie soils will store a lot of water. The lighter soils of Southern Illinois that developed under trees don’t have the organic matter in them that our deep soil does. Drought is always closer down there.

Heat during corn pollination is always a concern. The pollen from the tassel at the top of the plant has to get to the silks on the ear shoot lower on the plant. Cool-weather with some breeze is ideal for pollen movement. Hot sun with low humidity can kill the pollen before it reaches the silk. We have had ample humidity and corn pollination should go well.

We have been in both our corn and soybean fields looking at weed control and scouting for disease and insects. Some diseases are encouraged by dry weather. Some are a problem in wet weather. At this stage in corn, spraying probably means calling in an airplane. Aerial spraying seems a little inexact. Like a lot of our other equipment, spray planes are equipped with GPS to keep them in the right place. Soybeans can still be sprayed with ground equipment right now but some may be sprayed by airplanes later on.

We think mostly about grain farming in Douglas County but animal agriculture is a huge part of US agriculture. About half of the corn and 70 percent of the soybeans we grow end up as livestock feed. The United States is currently free of the highly contagious animal malady foot and mouth disease. An outbreak several years ago in England was devastating to that country’s agriculture. For many years the Farm Bureau has advocated a store of a vaccine against this disease. A small amount has been available but finally, a contract was let to increase that stockpile. Protocols are in place to help manage any disease outbreak in domestic animals. These limit animal movement in the case of a disease outbreak.

 The slaughter numbers of hogs and cattle are back near the pre coronavirus levels. There hasn’t been a lot of progress in working through the backlog of animals from the packing plant shutdowns in the spring, however. An industry spokesman I heard thought that might last into the fall. Grain prices, especially corn, have suffered during the era of COVID-19 but the disruptions to livestock producers have been huge.

We have settled into our regular summer work. We have cleaned up equipment and worked on mowing roadsides. Painting and some building repair that we have put off is on the docket, in between showers the last couple days. Our second cutting of hay needs to be mowed when we see a forecast of 4 sunny days, Alfalfa should be mowed when it begins to show flower buds for best quality. Ours is in full flower. We have a couple of projects planned for grain bins but those are going to wait for cooler weather. 

 Ordinarily, late summer is full of meetings and field days but nearly all of those are canceled this year. Probably most of us have participated in a Zoom meeting by now and you can get something done that way. I still like face to face meetings. That interchange is important. Illinois Farm Bureau presidents for many years got together for two days in Bloomington. I always enjoyed the speakers and interaction with other presidents. This year that meeting will be electronic and 4 hours long, more or less. 

I have thought quite a bit about the changes we have seen this year and what the future looks like. People that get paid to think about that are looking too I Imagine. The just in time supply chain collapsed and we saw shortages of toilet paper and surgical masks. The food chain was severely disrupted. Will the consumer continue to prepare food at home or charge out to eat in restaurants like before the pandemic? All of this has implications for agriculture. Food to be sold in the grocery store is packaged differently than food going to the restaurant trade. Should a company set up for one or the other, or maybe both in some manner. Economies of scale have led to giant packing plants that handle thousands of animals a day. Does the coronavirus make many local small locker plants a better choice? 

 The grain markets linger at low prices. The weather is seen as benign over much of the Corn Belt and planted acres are close to early guesses. I print the U.S. drought index map each week and take it to our marketing meetings. Some western areas are showing dry soil and Indiana had a lot of drier than normal areas. The markets see that as more of a concern for soybeans since they are just starting to bloom and put on pods. The corn is not made yet, however, and needs rain to finish. Our weather guy said it was ok to hope for a drought in South Dakota because they hope we have one in Illinois. There are no magic bullets of demand for any of our commodities. A problem with crop size is about the only thing that will move markets.

University of Illinois economists have gone from predicting a small profit for the average Illinois farmer to predicting a loss, even figuring in government assistance. That is depressing but there is always hope or we wouldn’t stay at it. Thank you for reading about Douglas County Agriculture this month.

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