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Spring brings plenty of rain, but conditions delay planting

Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Jamie Willrett checks on some of his 3000 cattle in one of the barns on his Malta cattle feed lot on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Last year's drought increased the price of feed, which led to farmers like Willrett using different substitutions for feed. How prices fluctuate this year will ultimately depend on the weather.

DeKALB – Despite the late start to planting, DeKalb-area farmers are expecting a good growing season and harvest year.

Bob Johnson, who farms 2,100 acres south of DeKalb, said he had been concerned until recently that there wouldn’t be enough moisture in the soil.

“Last month fixed that,” Johnson said.

Since Jan. 1, DeKalb County has received 17.5 inches of precipitation from rainfall and melted snow, said Gilbert Sebenste, staff meteorologist at Northern Illinois University.

“We’ve made up for all of the rainfall for the short-term and the midterm we didn’t get last year,” Sebenste said.

But a colder-than-normal March and April have led to delays in planting crops across Illinois. According to the state’s weather and crops report, farmers have planted 17 percent of their corn so far.

On average, Illinois farmers have 64 percent of their corn planted at this point during the season. Last year, Illinois farmers had 94 percent of their crops in.

The report is published weekly during the growing season by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistical Service.

Lance Honig, crops branch chief at USDA NASS, said corn planting and soybean planting are occurring at their slowest pace nationwide since 1993. However, he noted that weather is the ultimate factor in terms of crop production.

“There is no guarantee on when you get the crop planted, what kind of result you have,” Honig said. He added that farmers had an early planting season last year, but crops suffered nonetheless when the drought hit.

Johnson expressed similar sentiments. If the weather is hot and dry when the corn is pollinating, it could ruin the crop even if there’s rain soon afterward.

“Some people had ears with no kernels on there because of no pollination or poor pollination,” Johnson said.

Mark Tuttle, a Somonauk farmer and the president of the DeKalb County Farm Bureau, said some farmers might reduce risk to their crops by planting different varieties of them. He said he knows companies have been working on developing corn that requires less water to grow.

He added, however, that he did not expect much to change.

“The drought is kind of an anomaly,” Tuttle said. “It’s not what you expect every year.”

Paul Taylor, an Esmond farmer and the president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said his corn yield dropped 15 percent last year as a result of the drought. However, he said he fared better than some others.

“We suffered some, others suffered more,” Taylor said. “We had a crop to sell, and others didn’t.”

Sebenste said that winter weather appeared to finally be done, with scattered thunderstorms expected for Friday, along with some rain early next week. At the end of these next 10 days, it will be very difficult for a frost to occur, he said.

“We can finally put a fork in the winter of 2012-2013,” Sebenste said.

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