Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan

Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan leads the opening of Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The challenging weather this year, continuing trade wars and the latest USDA yield and acreage reports dampened the mood for farmers and their advocates at the Illinois State Fair.

Many farmers were still in shock on Ag Day, one day after the USDA’s acreage report forecasted 90 million acres of corn at an average 169.5 bushels per acre — a 3.5 bushel per acre increase from the last report in June.

“After the report came out, my phone lit up like a Christmas tree,” said Rich Guebert, Illinois Farm Bureau president. Farmers were calling to express their disappointment. “They don’t feel the report was accurate.”

An asterisk year

“I’d say there is shock,” agreed Doug Schroeder of Mahomet, Illinois.

It is difficult to see how the USDA came up with those numbers considering the many prevent plant acres, said the chairman of the Illinois Soybean Association. The yield expectations were also a shocker.

“I think it would be interesting to see the methodology the USDA used,” said Bill Leigh, Illinois Corn Growers Association vice president.

It seems like the numbers should have an asterisk, he added.

The low corn prices are aggravated by trade issues. Farmers want to see peace in the China trade wars, Guebert said.

There has been a little positive news, with President Donald Trump now offering hope of progress at a meeting with China set for December.

European markets are opening a bit, there is interest in Japan and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is traveling to Vietnam to promote trade there, Guebert said.

Supporting USMCA

The Illinois Farm Bureau is calling for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to be ratified to increase some stability in trade with two important partners.

At the gathering of farmers in Springfield on Aug. 13, Farmers for Free Trade representatives provided a large banner for people to sign in support of the new North American trade agreement.

Emma Manoukian, a summer intern for Farmers for Free Trade from California, is part of a team that has already traveled 18,000 miles in 26 states. The Illinois stop was the last before a trip to the southern states, ending in a rally for free trade in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 12, she said.

The group’s effort is supported by many Illinois commodity groups, including the Illinois Beef Association, Manoukian said.

“USMCA is important to beef producers,” said Jill Johnson, IBA’s executive vice president.

Certainty about trade with Canada and Mexico is needed when there is so much uncertainty on so many fronts, she said.

Pam Janssen, president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association, is also advocating for the USMCA, noting that Canada and Mexico make up 40% of the export market for pork.

Pork producers also want to see progress made in talks with China. Janssen, who farms with her husband, Bob, in Woodford County, said pork producers know improvements must be made in China, and it will not be easy.

For pork producers, African swine fever and other diseases also remain a major concern. Janssen said, adding that work continues to have emergency protocols in place if ASF were to come to the U.S. Efforts continue to encourage all producers to have a premises ID, she said.

Rolling with the punches

For dairy farmers, the weather has raised fears of having enough forage.

“Alfalfa will be at a premium,” said Kurt Johnson of Greenville. The southern Illinois dairyman said he has lost about 70% of his alfalfa to the weather this year.

The challenges of the wet spring were not the end of it for Johnson. In his part of Bond County, another eight inches of rain fell in early August. He saw fields of sorghum sudangrass flattened and some corn down on his way to the state fair.

He also personally experienced the wrath of the latest rain.

“Fifty bales of my hay were swept down into the creek,” he said.

It had been cut and was ready to bring in when the downpour came, said Johnson, who milks 120 cows and farms 500 acres of row crops, cover crops and alfalfa.

On the positive side, milk prices are better these days, improving financial statement for dairy farmers.

“We’re in the black now after four solid years of not in the black,” he said.

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