By Larry W. Dallas
Relatively dry weather has continued into late December and fieldwork continued until rain on December 12. We got our last 80 acres of lime spread and those corn stalks chiseled. We put the chisel plows away and our big tractor goes to the implement dealer for some maintenance work. Many dealers have preventative maintenance programs that feature cheaper parts and labor in the winter. Their mechanics stay busy and we get our tractors or combines looked at by a professional.
There was still some nitrogen and dry fertilizer going on too. The temptation to keep working is strong, especially after recent falls when we were lucky just to finish harvest. Every year on December 12, I remember the 2009 harvest. The twelfth was when we finally finished harvest in that year of mud and wet corn. We got no fall work done and spring was a struggle as we tried to catch up. We bought a second disk to speed the task of closing the ruts we made in the fall. At least from a fieldwork standpoint, we are well situated for 2021.
Our drainage tile projects were finished just ahead of the rain. The ground was ideal for that installation. We could drive anywhere we wanted in the field without worrying about mud. As we mentioned last month, there is little water running in the existing tile. The soil profile is very dry going into winter. The US drought monitor shows a large part of the country west of the Mississippi as severely dry and a tongue of drought into Central Illinois. Precipitation this winter will be important for our 2021 crop prospects.
Both drainage projects we did this year had large main tiles we could hook onto. One was in a tile district that levies taxes to maintain that outlet. I researched the other main this summer. There was a tile district started in 1908 in this drainage area. The main itself runs over a mile and a half into the Kaskaskia River. Evidently, the tile mains were installed and the district went dormant after that because it no longer levies taxes. Most of the tile is in good shape considering it is 100 years old. Almost always the old mains are undersized. A hundred years ago, only a few drain tile into the worst ponds were installed. We put a tile every 50 to 100 feet across a whole field, greatly increasing the volume of water in wet periods.
We are fortunate the mains are in place. We are looking at another drainage project that has no apparent outlet without a new tile across a neighbor for about half a mile. That is both expensive and complicated to pull off. Getting the next owner to let you go across them isn’t always a given. The last 24-inch tile we installed, a common size for a main, was a dollar an inch to put in the ground.
The coronavirus is in the news constantly and agriculture is playing a role in the program to distribute the vaccines. These are shipped in dry ice to keep them, in some cases, very cold. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide and that is a by-product of the ethanol industry. The fermentation of corn for ethanol produces carbon dioxide. That is captured and used to carbonate beverages and for other industrial uses. Now it is being used in the drive to make us immune to COVID-19.
The ethanol industry has been hammered by the coronavirus shutdowns. With fewer miles being driven, there is less need for ethanol to be mixed into gasoline. Higher corn prices are cutting into profit margins as well. There has been consolidation in the ethanol industry and some plants are shuttered, perhaps to be permanently shut down.
One of the farm magazines had an article headed “meeting season goes virtual”. Winter is usually a time of many meetings and farm shows. The Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting is ordinarily four days of resolutions sessions, talks, and presentations. This year it was boiled down into about six hours of online activities, over three days. Originally it was planned that delegates from each of the 18 Farm Bureau districts would gather in central points so at least the district could have in person discussion. Ultimately most delegates participated from home if they had a good internet connection. I was where so many farm meetings occur, the kitchen table.
The meeting went remarkably well. The electronic capabilities we have made something like a virtual meeting possible. The staff at Farm Bureau made it work and even set up a method to vote for district director in the even-numbered districts. One of Illinois Farm Bureau’s priorities is to expand affordable broadband over the state. I have reasonably good internet but many areas do not. The need for virtual schools has highlighted these shortcomings. Some of the rural electric cooperatives are participating in broadband expansion, following up on bringing electricity to farmers 90 years ago.
We have settled into our winter routine. We have cut brush and fixed tile when the weather is decent and work in the shop when it is not. The third tractor this winter is in the shop presently to change oil and filters and do minor maintenance. We have already hauled one bin of beans into the elevator. There is some grain moving as prices have moved higher after harvest.
The same factors as earlier this fall are at work in the grain markets. World supplies of grains are not as big as originally thought. Russia is contemplating an export tax on wheat to keep domestic prices down because of a short crop there. Some parts of South America have gotten rain but the first crop corn in some areas is already damaged. Many of the prognosticators assume that it will rain at some point in the crop growing areas. They have not had a good general rain however and they need rain throughout the growing season. China continues to buy commodities, it is thought to restock their reserves of feed and food.
It will be after Christmas when you read this so I hope that was enjoyable and I hope this new year is happy and less eventful than the last. Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this year.