Weather starts to dry up optimism for local farmers
The unusually warm weather in northern Illinois is starting to take its toll on crops, causing some DeKalb County farmers to worry about yields.
The county is short about six inches of rain this year compared to average rainfall amounts, said Gilbert Sebenste, meteorologist for Northern Illinois University. With only 1.83 inches of rainfall so far in June, precipitation in the county is down 25 percent to 30 percent just this month.
Mariam Wassmann, DeKalb County Farm Bureau director of information, said although the weather is dry, crops seem to be faring well.
“I’m amazed as dry as it is that things held up as good as they did,” said Roger Faivre, who farms southwest of DeKalb. “Generally our problem is too much water.”
Tracy Jones, who farms north of Clare, said he’ll start to worry if the area doesn’t see substantial rain in the next two weeks when corn begins pollinating.
“I would call it a drought,” he said. “Corn is curled up by noon every day. It’s very difficult to assess the amount of damage.”
When corn leaves start curling, or rolling, it’s a sign that plants are trying to protect themselves from dry weather.
One advantage DeKalb County has over the rest of the state – 70 percent of which is in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor – is the dark soil that can hold a lot of moisture.
Northern Illinois corn also is not as far along as crops in southern and central parts of the state, which are now ready to pollinate. The U.S. Drought Monitor has deemed the northern part of the state “abnormally dry” while several of the state’s most southern counties are experiencing an “exceptional drought.”
“This is dry for us this time
of year,” Wassmann said. “... This is somewhat unusual for us.”
Sebenste said last year was a lot more wet. The average rainfall from Jan. 1 through June 20 is around 17 inches, and last year the county got about 19 inches of rain within that time period. So far this year, only 10.44 inches of rain have fallen.
“We were about 2.5 inches above the average rainfall at this point last year,” he said. “It’s definitely drier this year.”
Some farmers are comparing this weather to the drought of 1988. Faivre said that season started out wet with flooding in June and ended very dry in July and August.
He said crops need 1½ inches of rain each week to prevent them from being damaged by a lack of moisture.
Sebenste doesn’t expect any substantial rainfall by the end of June, with only about a half-inch expected in the next week.
Victor Township farmer Janet Plote said she is worried about potential yield loss and, like other area farmers, has noticed corn leaves curling up. Because irrigation systems are uncommon on northern Illinois farms, there’s not much farmers can do to guard against hot, dry spells.
“We just have to pray for Mother Nature to give us some rain,” she said.
Malta farmer Mike Schweitzer has noticed his crops are starting to show potassium deficiencies and curling leaves. Potassium deficiencies show up as brown tissue on the lower part of the plant. He said good tilling and fertilization practices at the beginning of planting help crops stay strong through erratic weather patterns during the season.
“Healthy plants tend to stay healthy,” he said. “Anything you can do before [planting] helps it down the road.”
Jones said dry weather has been a problem across the Midwest. He said just about everything east of Des Moines, Iowa, is extremely dry.
Jones is reluctant to sell much more of his crop because he’s not sure it will be there come harvest time.
“It’s so frustrating,” he said. “If we could change the weather pattern, I really believe we could have a darn good crop.”