This spring has been like déjà vu for Illinois farmers. They’re hoping it will feel that way again next fall.
Heavy rains battered fields across the state this spring, preventing field work, delaying planting and forcing replanting in many areas. But similar problems in 2019 were eased later in the growing season, when favorable conditions brought a better-than-expected crop.
“Looking at the quality of the crop, we have certainly had better years,” said Craig Kilby, a Beck’s agronomist whose territory covers western Illinois. “I couldn’t drive many places and take a picture of an ideal corn field. We have really struggled to get good planting dates. We’ve had a lot of struggles with early planted as well as late-planted corn.”
Gerry Rottmann, a private agronomist who works in southwestern Illinois, said planting timing carries a lot of weight.
“Most of the corn that was planted in April looks good, but corn that got planted around May 10 to May 12 got hammered,” he said. “There are guys who have planted a field three times.
“The temperature dropped the ninth of April. That explained a lot of things. Soil temperatures dropped on the ninth and the corn field planted on the 10th and double-crop bean stubble stayed cool and wet.”
Rottmann said corn was replanted on April 20 and 21, then rains came.
“We got an inch of rain on April 23, and 2 inches on April 25,” he said. “It was like clockwork. Soil temperatures were rising at that time.”
Craig Finke, who farms in Washington County, has encountered problems similar to those in 2019. While he was able to get much of his crop planted early, it ran into other weather issues.
“Overall, it was really wet in the beginning,” Finke said. “We finished up with corn and soybeans on April 22. In all honesty, I thought I was half nuts for taking that window and finishing everything. But right now I’m glad we did it. Most of my stands are 95 percent-plus.”
Kilby has seen the dual weather-related problems, especially with corn.
“In the earlier planted corn we had struggles with temperatures, combined with some wet conditions,” he said. “The later planting dates in corn we had more water and drowned-out areas and flooding in some areas. A lot of river bottom areas were completely lost.”
But like many farmers, Kilby remembers the resiliency the crops experienced last year, and he is optimistic there could be a repeat.
“We’re accumulating a lot more (growing-degree day) units lately,” he said. “Things are looking better. Color is improving in the corn crop every day. Stands aren’t ideal, so we’re down a little bit from what we saw even a year ago with planting populations.”
Many growers are seeing better response from early planted soybeans. Rottmann said many farmers and agronomists are changing their thoughts on planting dates. For one thing, most were more concerned with getting corn in early because they assumed beans were less cold-tolerant.
“That’s what we’ve always thought. In my experience we always plant corn first,” Rottmann said. “We’re re-educating ourselves. Beans respond to earlier planting. Corn doesn’t necessarily. We plant corn early so we can get it planted by May 15 or 20, then corn yields taper off. You plant beans April 25 and they do better than those planted on May 15.
“Most beans look really good. The first week of April corn looks beautiful and it’s getting better looking. A lot of that yellow is lack of nitrogen or working the ground wet. Those problems can be mitigated by adding nitrogen with herbicides.”
Kilby is hoping for a rebound like that in 2019.
“We look at last year’s late planting in June at the same time frame, and we were favored by some good weather later in the season,” he said. “Given the right conditions we could still do well.”