A roundup of agricultural news:
Last week's string of 90-degree days stressed crops in some parts of Illinois, according to the state office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Even though some areas could use more rain, other areas — particularly in southern Illinois — got too much rain.
Generally, however, the state corn and soybean crops look healthy, with 92 percent of the corn crop and 93 percent of the soybean crop rated excellent, good or fair. Only 8 percent of the corn crop and 7 percent of the soybean crop was rated poor or very poor.
Average height of the corn crop as of Sunday was 75 inches, up from 63 inches a week earlier.
In the state's eastern region, which includes Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Kankakee, 61 percent of the corn had silked and 62 percent of the soybeans were blooming.
But soil moisture levels weren't as abundant as a few weeks ago. A survey indicated 72 percent of the topsoil in eastern Illinois had adequate or surplus moisture, while 28 percent was short or very short of moisture.
Seventy-nine percent of subsoils had adequate or surplus moisture, while 21 percent were considered short or very short of moisture.
Beef production positioned for turnaround
URBANA — The number of beef cattle has been dropping since 2007, but a Purdue University Extension economist said that's likely to change soon.
Feed prices are expected to drop this fall, and pastures and ranges are recovering from the drought that afflicted much of the nation's mid-section, said Chris Hurt in a release distributed by the University of Illinois.
"Nationally, 73 percent of pastures are rated in fair, good or excellent condition this year, compared to only 46 percent at this time last year," Hurt said.
The number of beef cattle has declined by 14 percent in the Midwest and by 12 percent in the Southeast since 2007, Hurt said.
But beef producers are likely to begin retaining heifers this fall, now that pastures are more lush and feed is more affordable, he said.
Herd expansion is expected to be low and "slow to get underway," Hurt added.
"Beef cow producers know that expansion of the herd is a long-term investment and generally want an extended period of favorable returns before making major financial commitments," he said.
Hurt said the price of calves may need to move closer to $2 a pound before there's a major expansion by beef producers. Current prices are $1.55 to $1.65 a pound.
Don't expect the retail price of beef to come down any time soon, he said.
"Retail beef prices, already at record highs, will move even higher in the coming 12 months, at a time when poultry and pork price increases are moderating or even falling," he said.
Survey: Cover crops improve yields
Farmers who used cover crops during fall and winter improved their yields by as much as 14 percent over those who didn't, a survey conducted by the Conservation Technology Information Center shows.
During the fall of 2012, corn fields following cover crops had a 9.6 percent increase in yields compared with fields with no cover crops, according to the survey of more than 750 farmers.
Soybean yields were improved 11.6 percent following cover crops.
Plus, in the areas of the Corn Belt hardest-hit by drought, yield differences were even larger, with an 11 percent yield increase for corn and a 14.3 percent increase for soybeans.
Some farmers had expressed concern that cover crops might hurt yields of corn and soybeans by competing too much for water, especially in fields that rely on rainfall.
But the survey findings indicate that cover crops conserve water and can help farmers adapt to changing climate patterns.
Common clover crops include crimson clover, hairy vetch, tillage radishes, oats and winter rye.
Cover crops leave behind plant residue that creates a blanket slowing down evaporation, leaving more moisture in the soil for the next crop.