By this time in 2012, many local farmers were in the fields beginning the harvest process for what was left of a corn crop hit hard by Midwestern drought conditions.
Oh, what a difference a year makes.
It’s a 180-degree difference this year, according to local growers who are projecting this growing season to yield an average to above average crop with farmers not expecting to make it in their fields to harvest until later in the year.
Ton Fricke, director of information for the Vermilion County Farm Bureau, said farmers at a meeting last week estimated farmers won’t make it into fields until October at the earliest as they wait for the right time to pull their crops from the fields.
Gabe Shepherd, who farms around the Fithian area, said he has a little corn that made it into the ground before spring rains held up the planting for farmers. He might try to pull that crop out at the end of the month, but otherwise doesn’t expect September to yield any harvest time for him.
“It’s far better than last year, at least in our area,” he said. “The corn crop is going to be much, much better than last year.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture apparently agrees, forecasting a yield of 165 bushels per acre across the state of Illinois and as much as 162 bushels per acre in eastern Illinois, including Vermilion County.
That tops the 101.4 bushels per acre that farmers brought in during last year’s drought-ravaged conditions.
The USDA predictions — issued in mid-August — came as drier conditions crept across the state during August. As of Sept. 5, the U.S. Drought Monitor listed parts of four western Illinois counties in severe drought conditions. An area stretching from the Mississippi River to Iroquois County — about 68 percent of the state — is listed in moderate drought conditions.
All of Vermilion County is considered to have abnormally dry conditions so far, an increase from just the southern portion of the county a week ago.
Greg Learnard, who farms areas around Catlin and Georgetown, expects the corn crop to produce an average-but-not-tremendous yield this year. He sees little that the heat can do at this point to hurt the corn plants.
“Once the kernel is dented, it’s hard to take a lot of yield off the corn crop,” he said, adding that the heat has accelerated the maturation process for the corn plants.
“The corn crop was out far enough ahead and had enough rain early that it’s not hurt too much by the dry weather,” Learnard said.
According to Fricke, what helps the corn crop can be a problem for the beans.
“There’s always two sides to weather,” he said.
In this case, it’s the moisture. While corn is doing well in the heat, the soybean crop that was planted late as a result of the spring rains could use a little of that moisture right now.
“With beans, we still have a ways to go,” Fricke said. “Rain would boost their yield potential quite a bit. They can take advantage of the moisture.”
But other than storms that came through the county on Aug. 30-31, the county has seen no rain in three to four weeks. And forecasts from the National Weather Service in Lincoln project only slight chances for rain in the area through the end of the week.
The dry conditions have Learnard less than convinced about the yield for soybeans come harvest time.
“It’s hard to put a number on beans,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have an average crop without some rain.”
And USDA projections reflect that. Unlike the 60-plus bushel per acre improvement this year for corn, soybean enthusiasm is tempered. Officials are estimating a yield only about six bushels an acre over last year.
Until harvest time arrives, farmers have various ways to keep themselves busy. Shepherd has livestock to tend to while Learnard is preparing machinery for the harvest.
“I’m getting machines ready, whatever I can find to do,” he said, adding: “But at some point, you run out of things to do.”