By Larry W Dallas
There is still some scattered harvest activity in Douglas County as I type this. As we have mentioned before, late fall weather is not conducive for soybean harvest. It has been a true problem getting the last ones cut. There is a little corn left too. It is being slowly picked in between showers. The US Department of Agriculture stops tracking corn and soybean harvest at the end of November. The November 21 report said Illinois corn harvest was 96 percent complete and 95 percent of soybeans were cut.
Only part of the fall work was completed. We got about half of our nitrogen fertilizer on. We quit trying to chisel plow corn stalks. We did some on days that the ground was frozen but had to stop as soon as it started to thaw out. We decided the remaining fields could be no-till planted in the spring. We would like to have done more fall tillage to remove compaction, but I doubt we were accomplishing that under the conditions this fall.
We are already planning on what we will do in the spring to get the next crop planted. We hope for a nice early break in the weather to get the work done we couldn’t do this fall, especially the rest of our nitrogen. The weather will ultimately decide how we proceed, and we cannot lock into a certain plan of action. There are options since modern farm equipment lets us work in conditions that were unthinkable fifty years ago.
The secondary tillage implements and planters of a half-century ago pretty much needed bare soil to work. That meant a moldboard plow was pulled over most acres to bury the residue of the previous crop. We have much more flexibility now, with tillage tools that will go through standing corn stalks and planters that will put a seed in the ground in almost any condition.
We have installed drainage tile in all the last five years and continued this fall. Fortunately, the contractor we use could install tile when we didn’t feel comfortable doing other fieldwork. Like everything, the price of drainage tile has gone up. We still think it is the best investment we can make to improve our ground. The yield maps our combines generate show better yields in tiled fields in a wet year like this. Other landowners see the same thing. You don’t drive very far without seeing the rolls of tile waiting to be installed or the telltale linear trails of the tile plow.
I will not tell you the infrastructure bill recently passed in Washington was all good, but it did contain some things helpful to agriculture and rural America. There are several billion dollars for rural broadband upgrades. An estimated 25 percent of rural America has inadequate or very expensive internet. This funding should begin to narrow the so-called digital divide.
Another long-time priority of agriculture interests has been the improvement of our river transportation network. Many of the locks and dams so important to the movement of grain and fertilizer on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers were built before World War Two. They are inadequate for the size of barges and the volume of traffic in today’s commerce. The infrastructure bill has around $4 billion in it over the next five years for repairs and improvements to the river system.
These projects are so important to agriculture that several mostly soybean-related commodity groups in the Midwest have pledged a million dollars to engineer and design work on Lock and Dam 25 on the Mississippi River near Alton, Illinois. River transportation is efficient for bulk commodities like grain. These commodity groups are showing real commitment by using grower money to start the ball rolling on this work.
Ethanol has been very important for corn prices and profitability for several years. There has been a lot of push and pull on ethanol over the last couple of presidential administrations. The last administration was very generous about allowing oil refineries out of the ethanol blending requirements, to the tune of many millions of gallons of lost ethanol demand.
The present occupant of the White House promised to be supportive of ethanol but has made a strong push for electric vehicles. The Environmental Protection Agency has been less than helpful by delaying blending requirements for 2021 and 2022 past the legal deadline. When these were finally issued, the EPA went back into 2020 as well to change that year’s ethanol obligation. It doesn’t make sense to me either and I can’t really explain it.
I have always been a supporter of ethanol-blended fuels. They are made in this country and furnish many jobs in Midwest states. The addition of ethanol to gasoline makes it burn cleaner. Ethanol blended fuels work in the vehicles we already drive and use the delivery system that we have developed over the decades. The internal combustion engine has been powering our cars and trucks.
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District has purchased two hydrogen fuel cell buses, using government grant money. They cost about $1 million apiece. The district had to build a facility to make hydrogen because there is no hydrogen station to go to fill them. The hydrogen must be stored under pressure and that is the sole location the buses can be fueled up. They are quiet, the article I read says if not all that practical it seems.
In early December, members of the Illinois Farm Bureau met in Chicago for their 103 Annual Meeting. As a State Board member, I was busy in meetings, but the policy decisions were made by the delegates from the counties. Illinois Farm Bureau policy starts with resolutions submitted by the counties early in the year and ends with debate and ratification or defeat at the annual meeting of the counties. The state board and staff will follow that template for the coming year.
We have been cleaning equipment up, doing maintenance, and making repairs for the coming year. There is outside work to do like cutting brush and repairing tile holes, but the weather has not been all that good for those. We know we have grain to move after the first of the year. Some cold weather would help with that job.
Thank you for reading about Douglas County agriculture this month, and a little about Illinois Farm Bureau policy development. We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.