By Larry W. Dallas
Parts of Douglas County have turned a little dry in June. Some areas have had plenty of rain, even too much. Other parts could use a nice shower. The old adage was that a dry June made the crops root down in search of moisture. This made them more drought-tolerant later in the season when precipitation was scarce. The timing may be a little off since we plant a month earlier than the corn went in a generation ago.
So far, our ponds all have crops growing in them this year. Last year we planted some places three times hoping to get a stand good enough to at least keep the weeds down. Some of those places just grew weeds and that is evident this year. Even with herbicide, the weeds are very thick in some of those spots. We are not out of the woods yet. Standing water can kill any size of corn.
Overall, our crops look good at this point in the growing season. I have not been farther than Champaign and Effingham this month, so I do not have that much to compare with. The corn has the deep green color and fast growth we want to see at this point in the year. The narrow row soybeans have covered the ground, furnishing the shade that is important to compete with weeds. The 30-inch rows are not far behind.
Some problems are apparent. You may see random yellow leaves in cornfields. This can be nutrient deficiency or just a rapidly growing plant. A larger area of stunted or yellow plants in an end or corner is often compaction. Even in a somewhat dry year, it is possible to put compaction layers into a high traffic area of a field. Regular rainfall will mask compaction because the plants do not have to fight to get moisture. In dry weather, the plants suffer.
There have been a few cases of herbicide damage in soybeans around the county. This varies from parts of an end to major portions of fields. The nonselective herbicides we use are unforgiving. If the crop being sprayed does not have the right genetic trait, it seldom turns out well. Even with good records, mistakes happen. That can be thinking the seed we planted was a certain trait or a misunderstanding when mixing herbicide. It is early enough that the dead soybeans can be replanted with some yield loss. One of the Tuesday morning Marketing group members said you probably should not clean your planter up until after July 4. There is always the chance you will have to get it back out.
The agriculture press has several stories about a federal court striking down a provision of a U.S. Department of Agriculture agreement to allow faster line speeds in hog slaughter plants. This might not seem to have much to do with Douglas County since this is mainly a corn and soybeans area. Livestock feed is still the main use of our crops, however. The line speed reduction is forecast to cut processing capacity by 2.5 percent. That could mean finished hogs with no packing plant to go to, and ultimately fewer hogs being produced.
Iowa State University thinks this might reduce income for hog producers by $80 million. It could also make pork more expensive in the store. Fewer hogs to feed will cut demand for the feed grains we grow. The line speeds that were disallowed have been in use for over 20 years. This decision seems ill-advised at best.
A bright spot for pork producers continues to be exports. In 2020 the United States exported 11 percent more pork than in 2019. China took 9% of our total pork production in 2020 but Japan and Mexico are major customers too. China has not yet recovered from the massive African Swine Flu outbreak that took an estimated one-half of their hog herd. Each time they think they are past the disease it shows back up. As noted before, information out of China is opaque at best.
The end use of most soybeans is being crushed to yield soy oil and soy meal. Historically the high protein meal was in demand for animal feed and the oil was sort of a byproduct. That has been turned around right now. Shortages of other oil-producing crops like canola or palm nuts have made soybean oil more important. Soybean oil has many industrial and food uses. Cooking oil and salad dressing are major soy oil uses in this country.
Illinois has several bean crushing plants and a good market for our soybeans. Decatur, Taylorville, and Gibson City in this area have soybean processing plants. The first plant in the United States built exclusively to crush soybeans was built in Decatur. The exact date seems to be uncertain, but it was in operation by 1922. Soybeans were grown in China for centuries, but they have been grown here only since the early 1900s.
North and South Dakota are now growing so many beans that one of the major soybean crushers is putting a plant in that area. That region was always a large producer of spring wheat. Wheat is grown around the world and in good supply right now. There have been early soybean varieties developed for the upper Midwest and production is increasing in an area that formerly grew very few.
The last of the soybean herbicide is being sprayed and roadsides are being mowed. We just now got our first cutting of hay baled up. I know of hay fields that have been mowed for the second time. The recommendation is to mow alfalfa every four weeks for the best quality hay. The weather has a say in that scheduling. Three to four rain-free days are needed to cure the hay enough to bale it. We have probably lost a cutting of hay by being so late with the first one.
Last year the Illinois Farm Bureau held virtual Nutrient Stewardship Days around the state. This year there will be 12 live events to demonstrate various techniques that can be used to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields. The Farm Bureau has committed to good stewardship of our soils, water, and air. These seminars are part of that commitment. If you are interested in attending one of these, the schedule can be found at www.ilfb.org/FieldDays. The field day in Coles County on July 15 is the nearest site for us.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month.