Accelerated harvest pace bodes well for wheat growers

Steve Jones checks the planting depth of his AgriMAXX wheat plot on Smith’s Family Farm near Belknap (Johnson County). Illinois farmers planted 73% of the wheat crop statewide as of Oct. 18, well ahead of the average pace of 55%. (Photo by John Howell)

The harvest pace remains above average and nearly twice as fast as last year.

And, that’s good news for wheat growers who took advantage of open fields and dry conditions in recent weeks to plant a majority of the winter crop in Illinois.

“We’ve had a very busy season,” Dale Wehmeyer, president and founder of AgriMAXX Wheat in Mascoutah (St. Clair County) and Illinois Wheat Association member, said this week. “There’s a lot of interest in wheat this year as prices moved up, which definitely caught farmers’ attention. A lot was planted last week.”

Illinois farmers planted 73% of the wheat crop as of Oct. 18, well ahead of the average pace of 55%. A quarter of the crop emerged as of that same date, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.

“There was concern about the moisture content in the soil,” Wehmeyer said. “But we had pretty nice rains last week that mitigated that risk.”

Many southern portions of Illinois received 2-3 inches of rain earlier this week before bands of thunderstorms moved through the state Wednesday and Thursday and dumped significant rainfall at numerous locations. Northern parts of the state also received the first measurable snowfall in the past week during a volatile spell the National Weather Service dubbed a “weather whiplash.”

Illinois farmers harvested 81% of soybeans (15 points ahead of the average pace) and 66% of the corn crop (a point ahead of average) as of Oct. 18.

“We were operating several weeks with no rain and we had warm weather, in between some cool days, and strong wind. So, the moisture really left the corn and soybean crops,” Wehmeyer said. “You couldn’t hardly get it quick enough. It was so dry you could keep the combine running all day.”

The dry conditions sparked a rash of field fires around the state Oct. 14-18. But the rapid harvest pace was a welcome sight compared to last year’s harvest struggles.

Illinois farmers weren’t even half done with harvest at this time last year when just 32% of corn and 45% of beans were in the bin as of Oct. 18.

“We’re in great shape compared to last year, when we were just getting started at this time” Ryan Frieders, FarmWeek CropWatcher from DeKalb County, told the RFD Radio Network.

Frieders finished soybean harvest around mid-month and was picking the remaining 10% of his corn crop last week.

Looking ahead, Wehmeyer expects wheat planting to wind down in the next few weeks as farmers shift gears to more fall tillage and fertilizer applications.

“Our phone is still ringing and we’re still making (wheat seed) deliveries,” Wehmeyer added. “But, it will probably wrap up pretty quick. We’re on the tail end of the planting season.”