Damage may be done for corn; rain might save beans
Any rain that comes now will be too late to help the corn crop, but it might salvage soybeans, area farmers say.
At this point, neither crop looks good in East Central Illinois.
Some corn growers will be lucky if they get half the yield they usually get, said Dave Sadler, who farms in western Vermilion County between Fithian and Ogden.
"Some corn is completely gone and will probably be destroyed pretty soon, and some farmers may get half their normal yield," Sadler said. "Corn yields will be all over the board."
It's still too early to assess how badly soybeans will be affected, but there's concern the crop hasn't received enough moisture to fill out pods.
Many pods may have only one or two beans, rather than the customary three, said Scott Docherty, general manager of Topflight Grain Cooperative at Monticello.
Crop conditions vary greatly across East Central Illinois, even within individual fields, according to farmers and grain elevator operators.
Areas to the south tended to get less rain this year than areas to the north. But generalizations are difficult because showers that popped up this season were so spotty.
"One person gets one or two inches, and his neighbors close by get next to nothing," Sadler said.
In northern Vermilion County, for example, some farmers in the Hoopeston and Rossville areas got pockets of rain, but their neighbors in East Lynn and Rankin didn't, said Tom Fricke, director of information for the Vermilion County Farm Bureau.
Northern Iroquois County had some decent rains early this season, said David Treece, manager of the Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau.
But some farmers in southern Iroquois County are likely to see 50 percent yield reductions from previous years — and reductions will be "more than that in southern Ford County," he said.
"No one is looking at a good crop by any means," Fricke said.
Fricke said corn growers with good soils and a few well-timed rains might hope for a yield of 150 bushels an acre, rather than the customary 220 to 230 bushels.
"Others will be lucky to get 100," he said.
At Monticello, Docherty said he's hearing yield estimates of 50 to 150 bushels an acre on corn, with a projected average of 115 to 125 bushels in his territory.
Crop watchers are less willing to make yield projections on soybeans. Treece said some soybean fields look good from the road. But closer checks show pods are aborting or beans aren't filling up the pods.
Forecasters don't call for significant rain soon. Any rains that do come "are not going to help the corn crop, but might help the filling of the kernels," Sadler said.
Likewise, rain could help fill pods on soybeans, provided the plants have developed pods, he added.
Docherty said he expects harvest to begin the third week of August, a few weeks earlier than usual. He expects it to last only five weeks, instead of the usual eight.
"It could conclude by the end of September," he said.
Docherty predicted farmers will be surprised when they harvest their fields.
"These guys' emotions will swing high to low as they begin to harvest," he said. Some parts of fields will have 100-bushel-an-acre yields, while others will have close to zero.
"It's going to be all over the board as they go through fields with their combines," he said.
There are concerns aflatoxin may be a problem in corn since this is a dry year, Docherty said.
Drought-related stress can make a plant vulnerable to the toxic fungus. When aflatoxin levels exceed certain thresholds, farmers can't sell the affected crops for feed.
As for soybeans, Docherty said he has had some reports of spider mites in fields.
Treece said there's concern farmers will have trouble running crops through their machinery at harvest. Ears will be smaller, kernels won't be as uniform, and it will be hard to set equipment to handle that, he said.
If their crops look really bad, farmers may elect to disk their fields or mow stalks down. That would prevent stunted plants from continuing to remove nutrients from the soil, he said.
The drought has taken a toll not only on corn and soybeans, but also on pasture land.
"The hay crop is hurting as well," Fricke said. "Hay cuttings are way down from previous years."