Farmers hoping for reprieve from Mother Nature

Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 11:25 a.m. CDT

(MCT) MONTICELLO — Farmer Terry Lieb’s expectations for a top yield are dropping as wet conditions throughout Central Illinois are delaying spring planting.

Lieb is hanging on to hope that the crops will get planted, as they always do, but he realizes yields usually take a hit for corn not planted by mid-May. His sights are now set on having corn planted by June 1.

“Unless we have perfect weather the rest of the summer, the top end of yields is already off,” said Lieb, who operates Lieb Farms near Monticello with sons Josh and Jake. “It’s crunch time. It’s time to get going.”

Farmers’ concerns about field tiles not running and the ground not having enough moisture have been pushed aside with all the rain that has fallen so far this spring. Lieb, as with other farmers, realizes the operation is at the mercy of Mother Nature.

Still, he is surprised by how quickly conditions went from drought last summer to wet and muddy this spring. There was no delay planting last year, either, as some corn was in the ground in March.

Lieb has a little corn planted early this April that is just starting to come up.

“It was sure a lot easier planting last year,” Lieb said. “I figured we would get rain this spring. I didn’t think it would be this much.”

Farmer Ed Leonard Jr. of Niantic has gotten a few acres planted after working the ground to get it dry enough. He would rather conditions be somewhere in the middle of the two extremes.

“It seems like every time we get close enough to planting, it rains some more,” Leonard said. “Having the sun out would be helpful. We’re nervous about it, but we’re always nervous.”

How soon farmers will be able to make significant progress at planting will affect agricultural markets in the months ahead, said Darrel Good, a University of Illinois agricultural economist.

“The checkered history of acreage response and yield outcomes in years of late planting has been well documented so that considerable production uncertainty will persist well into the growing season,” Good said. “With improving weather conditions, current expectations are for a crop that will be large enough to meet consumption needs and lead to some buildup of stocks next year.”

In addition to corn, soybeans will need to be planted soon. Leonard said he would consider planting either crop, as conditions dictate.

“If conditions are right, you have to go,” Leonard said. “We can’t let a field sit there.”

Leonard is reassured that options remain for growers, depending on when they are ready to plant. They can decide to switch corn acreage to soybeans or plant shorter-season corn varieties.

Lieb has two planters and could have one running with either crop if need be. Usually, the focus is on one at a time, he said.

For the bison on Lieb’s farm, the grass is growing fast and the animals are well fed, unlike last year when concerns lingered about having enough hay for feed. After using all the hay supply, Lieb said it is starting to come back.

Spring is just the start of what could be a long growing season. Once the corn is planted, Lieb said the most important part of the season will likely be in July around pollination time. He’s hoping enough rain sticks around at that time, mindful of what happened just last year.

“It could shut off and not rain the rest of the summer,” Lieb said. “We don’t want corn pollinating when it’s so hot.”

The chances of a good corn crop remain high, even as planting is pushed back, said Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois crop sciences professor. Nafziger said farmers should still not be in a hurry to plant when field conditions are poor. On average, Nafziger said a little more than 40 percent is planted by the target, which is the end of April.

“It’s nearly the end of May before we reach 90 percent is planted,” Nafziger said. “It’s important not to do anything that might compromise the plant’s ability to take advantage of conditions later in the season that will determine actual yield.”

Only 7 percent of corn across the state was planted as of May 5, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Illinois Field Office weekly crop report. In the past decade, the only other year that less corn was planted by this time was 2009.

Although grateful for the rain coming out of the drought, Leonard is waiting for a break long enough to get planting started. For now, time is spent catch up on bookkeeping and other tasks around the farm.

“Moisture is still a blessing at this point,” Leonard said. “It will all be for naught if we don’t get more in July. We need rain throughout the season.”

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©2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

Visit the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) at www.herald-review.com

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