Cold, wet spring has farmers weeks behind schedule on planting
Farmers in northern Illinois this spring have been akin to tensed runners waiting in the blocks for the starting gun.
Usually by this date, they have finished or are nearly done planting their crops. But cold, wet weather has kept most of them out of the fields and on the edge of their tractor seats.
As Sunday, only 11% percent of the corn crop in Illinois had been planted, according to Steve Arnold, manager of the Kane County Farm Bureau in St. Charles. That compares with 88% last year and an 82% five-year average, he said.
"The good news is we're supposed to hit 80 degrees today," Arnold said Wednesday morning. "Any fields that are fit for planting, there will be equipment rolling as soon as possible."
That's also the case 40 miles or so northeast in Lake County, as most farmers were expected to get out of the barn in advance of predicted rain later today.
"Those who have dry fields are getting out there and going from sun up to sundown to make up lost time," explained Greg Koeppen, manager of the Lake County Farm Bureau in Grayslake.
A couple of nice days like we've had recently help get the ball rolling, particularly with the production capacity of modern equipment.
"They can get a lot of crop in the ground in a very short time," Arnold said.
But the lack of an extended dry spell has vexed farmers.
"It just keeps raining enough to keep everything wet. The problem now is everything is saturated," said Chris Gould, a farmer based near Maple Park. A farmer for about 18 years, Gould plants thousands of acres of corn and soybeans.
"This so far is the wettest spring I've ever experienced," he said. "We got a little bit in on Easter weekend but haven't turned a wheel since."
Sun, wind and warmth definitely help, but Gould was waiting until Wednesday afternoon with an eye on the forecast to determine his next step.
"Then we'll decide whether we'll pull an all-nighter and get a couple of farms done," he said.
"Today we're so close," he said, adding that conditions are sketchy because of predicted rain tonight.
"If a crop is mudded in, it's not going to grow well," Arnold explained.
In Harvard, McHenry County Farm Bureau board member Brandon Walter took advantage of sunshine Wednesday to plant corn and soybeans in some fields.
With about a third of his crops in the ground, Walter has been more fortunate than many.
He credited good drainage for what he's been able to get done so far but noted he was done planting last year on May 5.
"It's not good, let's put it that way," he said. "Everyone is getting antsy. Everyone is getting excited. They want to get going."
The clock may be ticking, but there is time to salvage the planting season, according to Koeppen. He said the last call generally is about June 1 for corn and mid-June for soybeans.
Arnold said the harvest will be later and yields could be affected. In Kane County, corn for feed, ethanol, exports and human consumption accounts for about 60 percent of crops. If it gets too late, farmers may switch from corn to soybeans for the season, he added.
"After tomorrow, it will be play it by ear," Koeppen said.
Farmers also are concerned about the potential of retaliatory tariffs in the ongoing trade battle between the U.S. and China.
"We are sitting on a huge inventory of grain while our export markets are diminishing," Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said in a statement May 10.
"Corn and soybean prices are depressed, combined with a delayed 2019 planting season due to heavy rains, and farmers are facing their sixth straight year of declining net farm income," he said.
Arnold said spring planting comes with another consideration.
"It's a prime opportunity to remind people to share the road," he said.
"Planting season is a dangerous time for farmers."