BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Farm grounds in east central Illinois continue to slowly recover from the drought that swept across several states last year. More than two-thirds of the state — including Vermilion County — was listed in extreme or exceptional drought conditions at one point as a result of the drought conditions last year.
But winter with its rain and snow has made up for the dry summer, with above average precipitation each month since December.
With planting season right around the corner, Vermilion County farmer Steve Fourez said he is optimistic about the soil situation for local growers.
“I think that whatever we’ve had in the last six weeks has gotten the tiles starting to run a little bit,” he said. “Since we’ve not had a hard freeze, what we’re getting is filtering down in the ground more.”
He added the ground was so dry during fall tillage that it reminded him of frozen ground coffee — no moisture.
Numbers released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture back up that theory as reports from the eastern section of the state — including Vermilion County — show 71 percent of the topsoil ranked as having adequate moisture.
Deeper into the ground, the area subsoil is listed as 59 percent having adequate moisture.
The subsoil is an improvement in the situation compared to the end of November last year. USDA reports from Nov. 26 indicated less than 50 percent of the subsoil had adequate moisture then. In fact, 45 percent was listed as having short moisture compared to just 29 percent as of this week.
Topsoil moisture has moved down slightly as of late, with November figures actually showing 77 percent of the top soil as having adequate moisture.
Jim Angel, climatologist for the Illinois State Water Survey, said historically there is not a lot of carryover from drought years to the following spring. He noted the first two months of the year have been wetter thus far as evidenced by the standing water Angel has seen in many fields around the area.
“This is much better than it was last year,” he said. “At this time last year, it starting to dry out in many areas of the state.”
February received 3.13 inches of precipitation, more than an inch more than the average of 1.99 inches, according to numbers from Aqua Illinois. January’s precipitation totals also were up, as the Danville area received 4.08 inches of rain, double the average of 1.91 inches.
December recorded 3.04 inches of precipitation, still more than the average of 2.79 inches for the area. The area has received 8 inches of snow this season.
November is supposed to be a wet month for farmers, but rainfall fell well short of expectations. According to Aqua Illinois measurements, Danville received 1.14 inches of rain, less than half of the 3.53-inch rainfall average for November.
Fourez admitted he was nervous about soil moisture heading into the winter months.
“Everybody’s been petty glad to be getting what we’re getting” Fourez said about recent precipitation.
He added unless “something changes drastically,” he expects to be in the fields planting on a normal schedule this year.
The National Weather Service said in its three-month outlook that the best chance for Danville is temperatures higher than 52 degrees through the month of May.