By Larry W. Dallas
July has been a wet month in Douglas County. Our weather source says we have gone from 2.5 inches of rain below average to 2 above average, in the space of about two weeks. The excess rain has changed the look of our crops. There are now dead places in the corn where water stood too long. Big areas of soybean fields have a decidedly yellow hue.
What this will do to yields is still a guess. Overall, the corn still looks good. Corn is a tropical plant and likes a lot of rain. Constantly saturated soil is not good, however. The yellow areas of the soybean fields may still yield well. Growth has certainly been slowed.
One way to determine plant health is with tissue testing. Leaves of the crop plants are removed and analyzed for nutrient content. An Illini FS agronomist showed me the results of corn leaf tests he had performed since the wet weather kicked in. These were mostly borderline adequate for the important nutrient nitrogen. One set of tests from a field in Edgar County showed a deficiency already. The plants will need nitrogen as they begin to fill the kernels.
Nitrogen in the nitrate form is easily lost out of saturated soil as we have had recently. There is no good way to put additional nitrogen on 10 feet tall corn. It would be difficult to get a ground applicator through a cornfield now. Aerial applications are usually low volume and would not be able to provide many pounds of nitrogen.
The constant wet weather is also causing disease concerns. Leaf disease in both corn and soybeans is enhanced by damp conditions. Prices for both are good and many farmers want to protect the yield they have. You have probably seen spray planes running these last couple of weeks. Fungicide is being applied to both soybean and cornfields to head off disease.
At the same time, we have more water than we would like, far northern Illinois remains extremely dry. My counterpart on the Illinois Farm Bureau Board from Winnebago County had a half-inch of rain at the same time we had nearly six inches. The Dakotas and southern Canada are dry too. The spring wheat crop ratings, a major crop in that area, decrease each week.
A rough year for South American farmers continues. After a bad drought in several areas, the second crop corn has been frosted at least twice in recent days. Most projections for South American corn bushels are well below the initial estimates. That means more customers for our corn since it cannot be purchased from Brazil or Argentina. They are rolling with the punches. Brazil is forecast to plant three percent more soybeans next year. That is about equal to the acres of soybeans the state of Illinois plants each year.
The market analysts say that we are in a weather market. Each new forecast is anticipated and analyzed to see what areas might get rain or miss out. Western Europe has been getting record heavy rain. The wheat areas of southern Russia are becoming dry in the last condition reports.
A great deal of attention is focused on the grain balance sheets. The leftover stocks from last year plus prospective production minus expected use of all crops are watched carefully. The corn and soybean balance sheets are close this year. A hiccup in crop size or increase in demand would make the leftover stocks of both crops uncomfortably small. Stay tuned.
As noted last month, Illinois Farm Bureau is sponsoring Nutrient Stewardship meetings across the state. I attended one last week in Coles County. Several farmers talked about things they are doing to prevent soil and nutrient loss. Changing fertilization techniques and tillage practices usually are the first methods tried. Cover crops were being used by many of these farmers as well. Illinois farmers are working to cut nutrient loss from our farms.
Another speaker was with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension coordinating the Embarras River watershed plan. They have been working to increase awareness of nutrient loss in the watershed. Both the Embarras and the Kaskaskia watersheds differ widely from top to bottom. In the flat black soils of Champaign and Douglas Counties, nitrogen loss is a large problem. The rolling hills of southern Illinois have more soil erosion and more phosphorus loss since it attaches to soil particles. Very different solutions are needed in the two areas.
Agricultural nutrient loss is called nonpoint nutrient loss because there is no specific location for the loss. It comes generally from a whole field or area. Another speaker at the meeting is working with the City of Charleston to reduce the point source nutrient loss from their sewage disposal plant. Charleston is aggressively working to cut the phosphorus coming out of that plant. Nutrient loss is both urban and rural.
We have been mowing when it is not raining and hauling the last bin of corn we had left on the farm. Usually, by the end of July, the yards are starting to dry up and do not need to be mowed as often. That has not happened yet here. We still need to clean the last seed beans out of the planter. We left them thinking we might plant in some of the ponds but it is pretty late for that. The other spring equipment needs to be cleaned up and moved to the back of the shed.
The wheat has mostly been cut and in most cases, soybeans planted into the stubble. Double crop soybeans are common in southern Illinois. They are a better bet in this area than 30 years ago. The wheat comes off a little sooner and the average killing frost is later. The soybeans get an increased chance of success.
Wheat and oats are not widely planted in Douglas County. Other areas of the country are more suited. The U of I continues to do extensive research on both crops, looking for varieties that fit this climate and soil. A third crop to break up the corn-soybean relay most of us would now be beneficial to the soil and to stopping nutrient loss. Oats grow heavier in weight in cooler climates. Wheat is grown worldwide. Corn and soybeans are a good fit here.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County Agriculture this month.