IL Corn Presidents

Outgoing Illinois Corn Growers Association president Ted Mottaz of Elmwood, Ill., steps back as the new president Bill Leigh steps up.

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The number of people unable to attend the Illinois Corn Growers Association’s annual meeting on Nov. 26 was proof in itself what a challenge this cropping year has been.

Several ICGA members were still harvesting.

Bill Leigh, the association’s vice president who farms near Toluca in Marshall County, said he had about 110 acres of corn left to harvest, but his brother was working on it.

The meeting had a quorum, but Leigh knew of at least four directors who were in the field on Tuesday morning trying to beat the next round of rain. Rain started in Bloomington before the meeting ended.

Appropriately, guest speaker Eric Snodgrass, a University of Illinois professor who works at Nutrien Ag Solutions producing software for weather forecasting, focused on the weather this season and talked about climatic effects on Illinois farmers this year and in the future.

In the Midwest, 2018-19 was the wettest year in 125 years of accurate weather records, he said. It was the second wettest in Illinois.

However, it was a matter of timing whether rain made a big impact, he said.

In looking at weather patterns and longer-term climate trends, he said areas like California will continue to be drier and hotter. The Midwest is an exception to the warmer and drier trends — in the general seven-year forecast, it looks to be cooler and wetter.

The atmospheric scientist, based in Champaign, said “we are positioned to have a positive future” in the longer term in the Midwest.

Snodgrass said the key for Illinois farmers is to maintain good soil health since this area has good soil depth and organic matter, which can be managed when there is some additional rain.

The news gave at least one farmer in the audience mixed feelings. Southwestern Illinois corn grower Garrett Hawkins of Valmeyer lives about 5 miles from the location of the famous photo of a house floating down the Mississippi River this spring.

“It’s been a struggle all year,” said Hawkins, who farms in the Mississippi bottoms southwest of St. Louis on the Illinois side.

He said the scientist’s predictions for future years are both encouraging — as it is positive for most of the state — but worrisome as there are likely to be more heavy rainfall episodes and he farms so near the Mississippi.

This spring, the levee held where he farms in Monroe County. Still, the wet year prevented him from planting about 25% of his crops. Only one year in 10 does he usually have prevent plant acres, and then it’s only about 5% of the crop.

Fields that were planted included flooded out areas and places where the crop was spotty. But, he finished harvest in the first week in November with “above average” yields overall.

“It’s weird how it worked out,” he said.

The Illinois Corn Growers Association has been working with other groups to help farmers in conservation efforts that will protect the soil for the future and be profitable, said Travis Deppe, director of ICGA’s Precision Conservation Management program. He has been working with farmers using reduced tillage, reducing fall-applied nitrogen and growing cover crops. He also connects farmers with companies providing cost-share programs, and the team helps farmers work through USDA and other government cost-share programs.

Deppe said there are already 300 farmers participating with 300,000 acres in the program in Illinois, providing data that will help them and others use the conservation practices effectively.

In addition to being a hectic year on the weather front, trade issues have been a headache for corn growers.

Illinois Corn Executive Director Rodney Weinzierl said efforts to finalize the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement are plugging along slowly.

“I think it’s doable,” he said, noting some positive words from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently have made him a little more upbeat on the progress.

“China is still the wildcard,” he said, noting that the odds of an agreement in the near future are slim.

On ethanol, he said that since he has been involved in the corn industry, there have been six ethanol policy platforms, and they keep changing as each has topped out. He sees more changes ahead.

As for the issues regarding the small refinery exemptions that negatively impact the ethanol industry, he said “we gotta get it fixed.”

Kevin Ross, the National Corn Growers Association president, agreed ethanol is “under siege” on many fronts, but praised farmers for being politically active and making their voices heard.

Ross said the year started rough with the negative Anheuser-Busch advertisements against corn syrup during the Super Bowl and is ending with Congress being unproductive. However, the Iowa farmer, who finished his harvest at 4 p.m. Nov. 24 before setting out to the Illinois meeting, said he ended up with “exceptional yields” for such a challenging year.

“It is encouraging what we can get through,” Ross said.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.