Farmers play catch-up on planting

Corn, soybeans lag far behind average pace as farmers race rains to get crop in

Brown County soybean fields lie flooded in a file photo from earlier in the decade. (USDA)

Brown County soybean fields lie flooded in a file photo from earlier in the decade. (USDA)

By Ted Cox

Illinois farmers are racing the rain in an attempt to play catch-up and get this season’s crop planted.

With more rain expected across much of the state Wednesday, farmers were trying to come from behind and make up the gap against the average planting schedule.

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture report on Crop Progress released this week found less than half of the state corn crop planted, and less than a quarter of soybeans.

As of the end of last week, 45 percent of the Illinois corn crop was planted, far behind last year’s 95 percent and the average of 93 percent at the same time over the last five years. Only Michigan, at 42 percent, Ohio, at 33 percent, and Indiana, at 31 percent, had less of the total crop in.

The RFD Radio Network pointed out in a story shared by the Illinois Farm Bureau that the difference of 53 percentage points between the state’s current planting and the five-year average finds that only Indiana, at 63 percentage points, and Ohio, at 57, are further behind the average schedule. Over the last week, the state corn crop went from 35 percent in the ground to 45 percent, with 32 percent sprouted, up from just 20 percent the previous week.

Again, however, soybeans were in even worse shape. As of Saturday, just 21 percent of the crop was planted, compared with 93 percent at this time last year and 84 percent on average over the last five years. Only Missouri and Ohio, at 18 percent, and Indiana, at 17 percent, had less of the crop in. Soybeans were slower on the comeback than corn, as well, with the 21 percent planted up from 14 percent the previous week, but with just 13 percent of the crop sprouted, up from 8 percent the previous week.

The Farm Bureau found in a story posted Tuesday that farmers across the state were struggling to play catch-up. On Monday, it offered farmers advice on how to deal with the terrible planting season, with relief available in various government programs, but with one industry analyst saying U.S. farmers were “possibly headed for record number of prevented-plant claims and possibly looking at a record number of acres left fallow or idle this year,” adding, “If that happens in mass, that means a large impact, not just to our farming operations but to the agri-industry in general.”

The USDA reported that, since the beginning of May, Illinois famers had just 6.8 days deemed suitable for fieldwork — less than a week over more than a month. The Illinois State Climatologist reported that the preliminary average for statewide precipitation for the month was 8.43 inches, almost 4 inches above the average.

On Tuesday, Gov. Pritzker visited Winchester near the Illinois River and Grafton on the Mississippi to tour flooded areas. He announced he was doubling the number of Illinois National Guard troops deployed to help with flooding, adding 200 for a total of more than 400.

“The state of Illinois will use every resource at its disposal to protect our residents and our communities from devastating floods,” Pritzker said in a statement. “As we continue to strengthen our levees in west-central Illinois, we must also plan and prepare for this force of nature to move downstream to our southern Illinois communities. These soldiers will help not only bolster our current numbers on the ground, but allow us to pre-position key assets in downstream communities to prepare for what’s to come in the days ahead.”

Bemoaning “a seemingly constant wave of storms that have generated significant rainfall, extreme levee saturation, and devastating river flooding,” Alicia Tate-Nadeau, acting director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said,  “Our priority has been protecting the life, health and safety of our state’s residents. As we press forward, our local and state emergency managers remain steadfast and committed to protecting our state’s critical infrastructure which helps to ensure continuity of key community lifelines.”