Agricultural Issues

Crops Playing Catch-Up
Patrick Kirchhofer - Peoria County Farm Bureau

The heat turned on with the turn of the calendar to June. Along with plenty of rain in May and June, the heat has given the corn crop a spike in development. It is playing catch-up, if you compare its growth rate to recent years.

There is an old farm term: “Knee high by the Fourth of July.” Even with the delay in planting, this year’s crop will far surpass this old saying…at least in Peoria County. Somehow, Peoria County eluded the deluge of rain experienced in many other parts of the state and the Midwest during planting season. Four- to five-inch rains were common this spring in many of the top-producing corn counties in Illinois. There is another saying—“Rain makes grain”—but you must plant the kernel first, and it has to survive the flooding.

There were some struggles in getting the soybeans planted in our area. Many farmers were waiting for the temperatures to warm up before planting beans, as soybeans are more susceptible to cooler temperatures. As a general rule, farmers like to see the soil temperature at least 50 degrees before planting corn and 60 degrees before planting soybeans.

As some farmers waited, the rain came, and many of the soybeans were planted under wet field conditions. If we have a moist summer, wet planting conditions will have a minimal negative impact on yields. But if the summer turns hot and dry, the wet planting could hurt yields this fall. Why? Soil tilled in wet conditions will become very hard and compacted if the weather turns dry. (Remember when you molded and shaped wet clay pottery in grade school and then placed it in the heated kiln. That’s an exaggeration, but I’m sure you get the general picture.) It’s nearly impossible for roots to penetrate through a dry, compacted soil profile.

On the other hand, what if we have a cooler summer and the corn and soybean crop grow and mature at a slower rate? With the delay in planting, this could mean a delay in harvest. If the wet weather continues, it could be a long harvest season this fall. There are always challenges and adjustments to the unknown in the farming profession.

Let’s change gears to the food vs. fuel debate. Ethanol seems to be getting pounded from all sides lately, and it is being blamed for a run-up in food prices. It is true—we are using more corn to produce ethanol—but you can look to the ever-increasing cost of petroleum for a majority of these price increases. Just think about all of the transportation expense in shipping food-related products (from the farm to the grain elevator, to the processor, to the packager, to the retailer). It takes petroleum-based energy to process the grain to a food product, and the packaging is often petroleum-based. The hard plastic containers in which milk, juices, soda and water are packaged, and the sealed plastic bags inside cereal and pasta boxes are petroleum-based. Even if the packaging product is cardboard or metal, petroleum was used in making that product.

Petroleum-based products are everywhere in our society. We need to become greener in all phases of our economy. Did you plant a garden this year. IBI

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