Corn, soybeans both past halfway mark for harvesting

A roundup of agricultural news:

SPRINGFIELD — More than half the state's corn and soybean crops had been harvested as of Sunday, and much of it was looking good.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service said 51 percent of the Illinois corn crop and 68 percent of the soybean crop had been harvested.

Sixty-eight percent of the corn crop was rated in either good or excellent condition, as was 62 percent of the soybean crop.

The soybean harvest was proceeding at a rate close to the five-year average, while the corn harvest was lagging a bit behind its five-year average.

As for the condition of other crops, 73 percent of sorghum and 84 percent of winter wheat were rated either good or excellent.

Pasture conditions, on the other hand, were discouraging, with only 24 percent rated either good or excellent.

Virulent weed spreads in Illinois, threatening crops

URBANA — That nasty pigweed known as Palmer ameranth has made its way to at least 26 Illinois counties, and a University of Illinois weed science professor is advising farmers to take several steps to limit it.

The weed originated in the southwestern U.S. but over the years has expanded into the eastern half of the country.

In soybeans, it can cause soybean yield losses approaching 80 percent and corn yield losses exceeding 90 percent, according to a UI release.

The weed's small black seed can move from field to field by various means, including harvesting and tillage equipment.

To limit the weed's spread, UI weed science specialist Aaron Hager suggests that farmers:

— Make fields with Palmer ameranth the last ones they harvest this fall and the last fields they plant next spring.

— Mark areas where the weed has produced seed and scout those areas intensively next season.

— Avoid using crop harvesting equipment on mature Palmer ameranth plants. Instead, remove the weeds prior to harvest, place them in a garden bag, and bury or burn the bags in a burn barrel as soon as possible.

— Avoid tilling affected fields this fall and next spring.

Farmers should also use an integrated herbicide program. That includes applying soil residual herbicides at full recommended-use rates within two weeks of planting and applying post-emergence herbicides before the weeds reach 3 inches tall.

In East Central Illinois, Palmer ameranth has been confirmed in Champaign, Iroquois and Macon counties, and some found in Champaign County appear to be resistant to glysophate herbicide.

Weed samples are still being processed from Ford, Iroquois and DeWitt counties.

Researchers: New biofuels could flourish with rule change

CHAMPAIGN — New biofuels, such as biobutanol, could be a boon to rural economies, but regulations need to be updated for the fuel to take off, according to a study by University of Illinois researchers.

UI law Professor Jay P. Kesan and Timothy A. Slating of the UI's Energy Biosciences Institute plan to publish the research in an upcoming issue of the Wisconsin Law Review, according to a UI release.

Kesan and Slating say biobutanol has a higher energy content than ethanol. A car fueled with biobutanol would go about 30 percent farther than it would if fueled by the same amount of ethanol.

Under existing regulations, biobutanol can lawfully be blended with gasoline in a concentration of roughly 11.5 to 12.5 percent by volume, depending on the density of the finished fuel.

Fuel manufacturers could seek a fuel waiver from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow higher blending limits. But the researchers say the waiver process is onerous.

While it might be legal to blend 16 to 17 percent biobutanol with gasoline based on pre-existing waivers granted in the 1980s, it's not certain the EPA would allow it.

"One of the things we're suggesting is to remove this uncertainty by updating the regulations to allow higher blending limits for biobutanol," Slating said in the release.

Kesan said the EPA has agreed that fuels containing up to a certain oxygen content have no negative effects on engine emissions.

"If that's the case, then let's simplify the regulations and allow all fuels to contain this level of oxygen," he said. "This would provide a larger potential market for biobutanol manufacturers without ... the uncertainty associated with trying to rely on a pre-existing fuel waiver."

The researchers also advocate a fast-track review process for new fuel waivers.

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