Douglas County Agriculture July

By Larry W. Dallas, president
Douglas County Farm Bureau

July has been a little kinder to us in the precipitation department than June was. The amounts have varied widely across the county, however. On July 11 we ranged from 0.3 to 3.5 inches in our rain gauges. One of the information sources we use calculates we are 4.35 inches of rain behind for the season. The deep soils of Douglas County have excellent water holding capacity but they can’t hold enough moisture to raise a crop of corn in an Illinois summer. The good crops of the last three years were due in part to plenty of timely rain. The high temperatures we have experienced use moisture up at a faster rate. We need continued rain to keep this year’s crops going.

Most of the corn has pollinated. A few scattered, late-planted fields have yet to tassel. Our sweet corn ears have been well filled. Some think that is an indicator that the commercial corn will be well pollinated too. A good ear will be 16 or 18 rows around and 35 or 40 kernels in length. Stress after pollination won’t change the rows around but a plant under stress will begin to abort kernels off the end of the ear until it reaches an ear size the plant can support to maturity. Beyond the moisture stress we have experienced, the recent hot weather stresses the corn plant not only during the day but at night as well. Corn plants rest at night when the temperature cools off. When nighttime temperatures stay over 70 degrees or so, the plant continues to respire and doesn’t get the rest it needs. I have not seen any formula to quantify this loss but we have seen that effect in past years.

The soybeans continue to grow, perhaps not as fast as we would like for them to canopy the ground and suppress weeds. The adage is that the corn crop is made in July and beans in August. We need rain for the beans too. Last year we had soybeans armpit high. So far this year they are about knee high at best. Vegetative growth doesn’t always mean a good yield but it can’t hurt to have a bigger plant and more leaves to soak up sun and energy.

We have seen some spray planes running as the corn has completed pollination. These are most likely applying fungicide to try to maintain the health of cornfields. We have seen almost no insect damage in the crops this year. The genetically modified seed corn we plant does a very good job resisting the insects that formerly caused huge crop damage. There is no resistance for the leaf diseases that can cut yield as well. The decision to spray is not taken lightly since this can cost around $30 an acre.

The Douglas County Farm Bureau Marketing Committee will do its annual yield survey Tuesday, Aug. 8. We will pull ears from fields around the county to try to determine what the 2017 corn yield might be. We count the number of ears in a fraction of an acre and count the size of three ears from that fraction. The committee has done this for over 20 years and has a pretty good track record of guessing the county final yield. The US Department of Agriculture will release its yield numbers Thursday, Aug. 10. That report is much anticipated since it is the first yield survey of the year to use actual acres and field observations to determine yields. The numbers up to now have used trend line yields to come up with the guess for the final production. The USDA reports are the subject of great controversy nearly every year. Questions about when the surveys were done, if the acre numbers used are realistic if the survey properly reflects the true status of the crop, and what the weather here on out might do to the final result are discussed endlessly.

I have talked a lot about weed control is past columns. Good weed control is important for good crops this year. That control also has implications for years to come. A single plant that escapes this year and makes seed might produce a million seeds to be in the soil to compete with future crops. Good weed control this year means easier weed control in the future. Studies have been done on the longevity of weed seeds in the soil and show that a certain percentage are viable even after 50 years. The weeds we are having the most trouble controlling right now are small seeded and less long lived in the soil but they also produce huge numbers of seed. Complicating the problem this year are the multitude of thin stands or complete blanks in our fields. Without the shading of the growing crop, it is easy for the weeds to thrive and put on seed. Walking beans to cut out the weed escapes was once very common in this area since the herbicides of thirty years ago seldom gave complete control. We have seen some farmers using bean walkers this year trying to reduce the weed numbers in their bean fields.

The tragic death of a farmer near Dalton City in a tractor-train collision underscores the need to always be cognizant of the dangers around us. I have caught myself crossing railroad tracks without really looking both ways, because the track is lightly used and the chance of a train being there is small. The need to move to the next field as fast as possible or move the equipment back home before dark makes all of us careless at times. Please be safe as you move equipment on the road.

Thank you for reading this update on Douglas County agriculture. Be vigilant and safe on the roads.