Dry stretch creates opportunities, concerns

A rain gauge at the edge of this corn field in Piatt County remains empty. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Warm, dry conditions allowed most farmers to wrap up planting and move on to other fieldwork the last full week of May.

The majority of crops, 91% of corn and 85% of soybeans, were planted in Illinois as of May 22, both well above the average pace.

“We started planting early and just kept planting,” Ken Cripe, Illinois Farm Bureau District 14 director from Fayette County, told FarmWeek. “Then in mid-May we got a lot of rain —almost 7 inches. There’s a few drowned out spots.

“All the corn and soybeans are planted and look pretty even,” he continued. “If we have to replant, it will be very little.”

Crop emergence reached 68% for corn and 57% for beans as of May 22, 15 and 23 points ahead of the average pace, respectively, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Illinois field office.

But, the recent hot, dry stretch that allowed farmers to get back in the fields is also becoming a growing concern in many areas as crops could use some timely moisture for development.

“Corn and beans are growing well, but Stark County needs rain soon,” said Gary Steward, FarmWeek CropWatcher from Toulon. The portion of the state ranked abnormally dry or in moderate drought nearly doubled in the past week to 48% as of May 25, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Moderate drought is in all or parts of Cook, DuPage and Will counties to the northeast and Adams, Calhoun and Pike in the west.

On the plus side, many farmers in drier portions of the state, including the west, central and northeast areas, finished planting at or near some of the earliest parts of the season in their careers.

“My wife (Susan) told me this was the first time in 40 years I’ve been done planting in mid-May,” said Don Guinnup, Illinois Corn Growers Association board member from Clark County.

“We have nice crops, but we’re dry,” he noted. “After 40 years I’ve learned not to worry about it. Whatever’s going to happen will happen.”

Guinnup grows corn, soybeans and wheat and finished planting his milo earlier this month.

Steve Launius, a Washington County Farm Bureau member, said some farmers just returned to the field in his area last week after recent rounds of rains. He reported some replant activity took place.

“We’re just getting back to planting,” Launius said on May 23. “It just depends on where you’re at and how much rain you got. By the end of (last week), we should be alright (in terms of catching up with planting).”

Up north, some farmers were also putting the finishing touches on planting following hit-and-miss rain showers.

Steward reported some farmers in his area with lots of cornstalks and shucks had snow-like drifts as thick as 2 feet in some fields following a May 14 storm that also dumped 3 inches of rain.

“Farmers along Interstate 80 have replanted hundreds of acres,” he said.

Leroy Getz, FarmWeek CropWatcher from Carroll County, reported, “the crops are emerging with good populations,” as of May 22 in the northwest.

Farmers completed 19% of the first cutting of alfalfa hay and 15% of other hay as of May 22, which was in line with the average pace. However, Getz and Ken Reinhardt, Mercer County CropWatcher, reported infestations of weevils and aphids in some hay fields.

Meanwhile, 84% of winter wheat headed as of May 22, which was 8 points ahead of the average pace. Harvest is expected to begin in southern Illinois in early to mid-June.

“Our wheat looks pretty good. I don’t know if I would’ve said that a month ago,” said Cripe, who noted fungicides were aerial applied to his wheat due to wet conditions earlier this spring.