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Dry conditions ignite harvest activity, field fires

Dry conditions allowed farmers to maintain a blistering harvest pace in recent weeks.

But the dryness, combined with the perfect storm of above-average temperatures and high winds, also sparked a rash of field fires Wednesday across the state.

Field fires erupted near Altamont, Beecher City, Carlinville, Champaign, Clinton, Danforth, Delavan, Effingham, Equality, Galesburg, Germantown, Harvel, La Hogue, Lebanon, Mahomet, Mason City, Paris, Peotone, Tonica and other locations.

The fires, which were all extinguished the same day by local departments, farmers and volunteers, ranged in size from 20 to 500-plus acres. Thick smoke possibly contributed to auto accidents reported near Delavan and on Interstate 72 near Champaign.

“The No. 1 factor (behind the outbreak) was it was so warm, with temperatures in the lower 80s (about 20 degrees above average),” said Matt Barnes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, which issued a red flag warning the day of the fires.

“The other key contributing factors were very dry conditions, with a good chunk of east and southeast Illinois under moderate drought, and there were very strong winds gusting to 30 to 35 mph (with a peak gust of 49 mph recorded at Willard Airport in Champaign County),” Barnes said.

Cause of the fires remained under investigation as of Thursday, although in some cases bearings or other pieces of machinery can spark fires. An official on the scene at Clinton suspected the fire there possibly was ignited by a passing motorist, perhaps from a cigarette butt. The field, which sits at the intersection of U.S. 51 and Route 10, had no harvest activity at the time of the fire.

Lucas Roney, a FarmWeekNow.com CropWatcher 2.0, barely avoided a possible fire on his farm.

“We smelled smoke in the combine and couldn’t find the source. After two hours of searching, we finally found a smoldering pile of soybean trash on a ledge in the feeder house,” Roney said. “We were lucky it didn’t get in the middle of the combine and cause a major fire.”

Topsoil moisture in the state measured 45% short to very short, 54% adequate and just 1% surplus as of Oct. 12.

Recent dry conditions did allow farmers to ramp up harvest activity. Roney noted he worked 24 consecutive days as of mid-October.

“There’s nothing really stopping anybody from working in the field,” said David Hankammer, a FarmWeek CropWatcher from St. Clair County. “I think there’ll be plenty of good opportunities to plant wheat as long as the weather stays on the dry side.”

Farmers in Illinois harvested 31% of soybeans and 19% of corn the week of Oct. 5-11, pushing harvest progress to 56 complete for beans (6 points ahead of average) and 45% complete for corn statewide.

Illinois farmers planted nearly half (46%) of the winter wheat crop as of Oct. 12, well above the average pace of 34%. Fifteen percent of the crop emerged as of Oct. 12, 6 points ahead of the average pace, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.

JCAR OKs anhydrous safety training requirement amendments

The bipartisan Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) Wednesday addressed state anhydrous ammonia rule amendments proposed for second notice by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). After reviewing the text, Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. submitted written comments about the details of the grower safety training certification.

IDOA had proposed more mandatory safety training for Illinois growers and grower farm operators who transport or apply anhydrous ammonia, or otherwise maintain anhydrous ammonia equipment.

In the amendment approved by JCAR, growers or grower farm operators who transport or apply or otherwise maintain equipment would be trained in safe operating practices and steps needed during an emergency or a leak.

A “grower farm operator” is defined as an individual employed by or otherwise authorized by a grower to transport or apply anhydrous ammonia, or to otherwise maintain anhydrous ammonia equipment. These individuals include grower family members, full-time and part-time hired help and others providing anhydrous ammonia services at no fee.

In IFB’s comments, Guebert recommended the state initially require new mandatory training certification no later than April 1, 2022.

“Although the exact number is not yet certain, some estimates indicate that there are as many as 5,000 growers and grower farm operators who will be required to be trained under this new requirement,” Guebert wrote. Without an initial certification deadline in the rules, one might assume the requirement would take effect immediately.

Training of that many individuals “causes several challenges at any time, but particularly in the middle of a global pandemic,” he wrote.

“IFB plans to offer both online and in-person training programs to growers and grower farm operators in conjunction with IDOA, other farmer groups and the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association,” Guebert continued.

The new requirement specifies the training should be offered free to growers and grower farm operators in an online program on IDOA’s website or an IDOA-approved attendance-based training program.

IFB plans to continue discussions with IDOA, the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association and other agriculture groups on the next steps needed to implement online training, according to Lauren Lurkins, IFB director of environmental policy.

Keep fall-applied nitrogen for the crop

Farmers, don’t apply anhydrous until soil temperatures at a 4-inch depth have dropped to 50 degrees and the forecast calls for weather that will keep soil temperatures cool. Remember, nitrification will occur until soils freeze.

For the latest soil temperatures, check the Illinois Climate Network website at {isws.illinois.edu/warm/soil}.

To ensure crops will have enough available nitrogen next spring, think about applying part of your nitrogen in the fall and the remainder next year.

Consider using a nitrification inhibitor with fall applications. Nitrification inhibitors slow the activity of nitrifying bacteria, slowing nitrification of ammonium to nitrate.

Several universities support the recommended rates available from the Nitrogen Rate Calculator {http://cnrc.agron.iastate.edu/}. The online calculator allows farmers to determine an economic return to nitrogen application at different nitrogen and corn prices to find profitable nitrogen rates directly from recent nitrogen rate research data. Consider reserving part of that recommended rate for a preplant or side-dress application. That will reduce potential losses and give you flexibility depending on weather conditions in the spring.