For farmers in many pockets across the state, it was too wet, too dry and then too wet again.
Some still have corn or soybeans yet to be harvested in December, but many more said they had surprisingly good yields despite the challenging weather.
Rains were off and on in Western Illinois
Western Illinois was very dry during the growing season.
“To add insult to injury, it started raining Aug. 28 and it kept going with either rain or snow through most of the harvest season,” said Fulton County farmer Lance Tarochione.
But the dry growing season didn’t reduce yields as much as expected because the ground started the season fully charged; there were a few timely rains, and the ground held the water well, he said.
The London Mills area farmer said yields would have been higher if the dry growing season and the wet harvest had been reversed.
“There are still producers in our area that are not done harvesting,” he said, noting both corn and soybeans still in the field.
“We finished just before Thanksgiving. There are still a few unfortunate souls not done,” he said Dec. 19, when temperatures were above freezing and the ground was wet. “It’s like the harvest that will never end.”
His area set records for November snowfall, with some drifts up to 4 feet that were taller than the soybeans standing in fields near Monmouth, he said.
Yields were surprisingly high, with the average for soybeans in his area 70 bu./acre even when harvested late.
“They were so good to begin with, they still were good with the late harvest,” Tarochione said.
Corn on average came in between 200 and 250 bu./acre.
“Both corn and soybeans were above average, but it’s not one of the best years,” he said.
The wet fall will likely have an impact this spring, he said. Some of the harvest was “mudded out,” which damaged soils, and many farmers didn’t get a lot of their fall work finished, including anhydrous application, cover crop planting and tillage.
That same kind of weather plagued farmers north of Springfield in Sangamon County, with some farmers harvesting soybeans on Dec. 11 and others with corn still waiting to be harvested on Dec. 19, said Doug Schemmer, who lives in that area.
He, like many farmers, thought harvest season might start five to seven days early in September this year because of the maturity of the crop. But rains nixed that idea and harvest started for him on Sept. 9 and 10.
Bouts of post-hurricane rains paused harvest for five or more days at a time.
In October, when harvest was nearly done, it started to rain and didn’t seem to stop. Shemmer said he had only about 15 acres of corn left and about 200 acres of soybeans when the rain put a long pause on harvest.
“It dragged on and on,” he said.
Still, many were rewarded with good yields. Yields for soybeans in that area harvested in December were still getting 70 to 80 bu./acre, he said.
“There are still beans standing here,” Shelby Weckel, an eastern Illinois crop adviser, said in mid- December as temperatures rose into the 50s. “They will eventually come out, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It’s going to be a struggle.”
Despite some weather challenges, she too saw good yields this year.
Team effort in Central Illinois
In Central Illinois, farmers also had their share of waiting for rain to stop at harvest time.
At O’Neall and Scholl Farms, based in Cooksville in McLean County, the two sets of fathers and sons first combined their non-GMO corn that had some standability issues before getting to the soybeans. Some of the soybeans were late maturing, then it was wet when they were ready, said Austin O’Neall, who farms with his father and their Scholl family partners.
“It was a very stressful time waiting on beans. We could see weather turning and couldn’t get the beans,” he said.
A later harvest of soybeans pushed their whole fall agenda back.
“We really had a tough time getting lime spread and getting any fall tillage done,” O’Neall said.
They were only able to get about 200 acres of fall tillage complete — mostly just to incorporate their cover crops. He said it is a blessing they don’t have to depend on doing a lot of fall tillage since the weather wasn’t suitable for that. They generally have no-till soybeans and vertical tillage corn.
They were successful in getting their wheat planted as well, he said.
O’Neall said having two families working together helps in years like this. They started teaming up in 2000.
“It worked in both of our favors in terms labor and covering acres,” he said.
As for this year, “there weren’t any extremes we haven’t seen before,” O’Neall said.
He’s already in planning mode, looking at some diversity with non-GMO varieties and other options that help with profitability.
“We see what we can do on our farm to make a penny or save a penny with the prices the way there are today,” he said.
Rains head South
Southern Illinois also experienced that mix of wet and dry weather this year. It was among the top 10 wettest years. Only two months were below average rainfall, but July included 24 drought days and almost all of October was a drought, said Doc Horsley, a retired Southern Illinois University meteorologist.
The rainiest year historically for this southern part of the state recorded 75 inches of rain; this year was 57 inches, while the average is 45 inches of rain. The timing of the rain added to the challenge for farmers, Horsley said.
Drought in some areas in June and July caused yield loses in Richland, Wayne, White and Hamilton counties, he said.
“Southern Illinois had a little of everything,” he said of 2018.