Skip to content

IFB District 12 Director’s Douglas County Agriculture update for April

By Larry W. Dallas
There have been a few soybeans planted in Douglas County but overall, there has not been much work done in Illinois or the Corn Belt. A year ago, we had planted both corn and soybeans by the middle of April. Regular rain and cool temperatures have meant little chance for fieldwork. Only Texas and North Carolina have planted any significant part of their corn acres. Our weather seems more like February than April. 

The recent trend has been for early planting, basically anytime farmers can get in the field after late March. The only limiting factor for most farmers are the crop insurance planting dates. Corn planted before April 6 and soybeans planted before April 20 in Central Illinois aren’t eligible for insurance replant payments. That is about $30 an acre. 

The calculation about early planting involves more than this possible replant payment. We seem to lock into long streaks of wet weather. It could make sense to plant in good conditions before the insurance date if the farmer thinks it might be another 2 weeks until the next good planting weather. Those dates no longer matter this year as we are past the corn plant date and approaching the soybean date. 

The seed treatments we regularly apply to both corn and soybean seed are what make early planting possible. The old rule was that the soil temperature should be 50 degrees before you plant corn The even older rule was that the oak trees should have leaves the size of a squirrel’s ears. The untreated seed of the past needed warm soil to germinate quickly. A long time in the ground exposed the seed to disease and insects. These rules of thumb gave the untreated seed a better chance to grow in warm soil. 

We think we are ready to plant. We would like to put a little seed in both planters to check that they will work properly. It would be unfortunate to get a window of dry weather and then lose precious field time on a breakdown we should have foreseen. 

There are still concerns about parts availability. Everyone has a story about asking for a part and being told it is back-ordered or simply not available. In addition to the ships backed up at U.S. ports, the Chinese lockdown of the city of Shanghai has ships backed up there. A lot of the parts we use come out of China.

The avian flu continues to spread in this country, with cases in more than half the states. For the first time I can remember, eggs were not on special at Easter. The average price of chicken in the store is reported to be 25% higher than a year ago. This disease affects ducks, geese, and turkeys as well. The price of any poultry product is going to be more expensive in the short run.

Commercial poultry flocks are closely watched for signs of the disease. If it is detected, the birds in that building or on that farm are destroyed to try to halt the spread. Everyone hopes the epidemic will end as wild bird migrations move on. The losses to the poultry industry will be quite high.  The two cases in Illinois were small backyard flocks. Indiana and Iowa have had large outbreaks. 

The rebuilding process for the poultry industry will be shorter than with other species. If you have a hen and a rooster to produce a fertile egg, you can have a chick in 21 days and a chicken wing about 2 months after that. It will take about 6 months for that chick to lay an egg. At least some of these farms are losing their breeding stock and rebuilding will lengthen the process.

From the time you decide to raise a hog to slaughter, it will take about 10 months to have a pork chop, assuming you have mature breeding stock. The time is lengthened out to close to 3 years for a hamburger or steak. Gestation alone for a beef cow is over 9 months. These differences in maturity make animal agriculture slow to respond to market signals. 

The world situation continues to keep grain prices high. U.S. planting progress is well behind average. No one has a handle on how many acres might get planted in Ukraine. Grain shipments out of the Black Sea region are slow and expensive because of the war. After a good start, the corn-growing areas of South America are drying out. The wheat-growing parts of the United States remain in a drought. All that uncertainty makes the grain traders and end-users nervous. 

North Africa and the Middle East eat a lot of dishes made with wheat and use a lot of Black Sea, wheat. Egypt is reported to be looking at Australian wheat to fill the void. Our east coast ports would seem like a closer source than Australia. I read that some Brazilian farmers were looking at trying to grow wheat. They have no experience with the crop and the climate is less than suitable. The price is so good, they want to try it anyway. Winter wheat planted now in Brazil would be harvested 6 months after the northern hemisphere crop and might hit a good market. 

The county is replacing the bridge over the Kaskaskia a mile west of our shop. The old one was built in 1940 and had been posted for 54,000 pounds in the last few years. It lasted 80 years and spanned the years from the end of the horse and wagon era up to 80,000-pound semis. That speaks well for the design and workmanship of the time. 

Infrastructure is often a topic of political speeches and advertising. I do not think we are at a crisis level but orderly maintenance of our roads and bridges is very important to agriculture. One of the farmers on the recent Farm Bureau trip to DC spoke to every legislator about the need to replace the Mississippi River bridge at Chester, IL. If it fails, he will have to drive an hour either way to get across the river. 

The bridge near my house should be finished by the end of the summer. A project like a Mississippi River bridge or a lock and dam will take years to complete. We need a government willing to plan for these big projects. Barge operators are willingly paying a fuel tax surcharge to fund river improvements. Illinois Farm Bureau was willing to pay higher gas taxes to fund roads and bridges. We are helping pay for the improvements we ask for. 

We are hoping for some dry weather and warmer temperatures. Watch out for us on the roads when we do get to work. Thank you for reading about agriculture this month.

Leave a Comment