More sun and warmth, please.
As March wraps up and the month of April nears, area farmers are readying for spring by checking seed orders, calibrating planters and in some cases applying nitrogen to fields.
There's still some time for the soil to warm up, but with below-average temperatures likely to continue next month, farmers could be facing a late start this year.
"It's looking like we're going to be planting later than usual. How much later, I don't know," said Lin Warfel, who farms between Tolono and Sadorus near I-57. He's getting ready to plant his 52nd crop and expects his seed to arrive in the next week or so.
In the neighborhood where Adam Watson farms, north of Villa Grove, the fields are starting to dry out on top and there's some moisture underneath, he said. Some drain tiling work has begun.
"We're in pretty good shape with soil moisture. There are some muddy spots, but I've seen different fertilizer companies spraying (anhydrous ammonia) so it must not be too terrible out there," said Chris Murray, who farms in northern Champaign County and southern Ford County. But it'll be a while before he and the others can hook up the planters.
"We need sun and heat," Watson said.
Most farmers are eager to start planting corn around April 15, although in some years they've planted earlier than that and last year planting didn't begin in earnest until May.
"The thing is, we don't necessarily look at the calendar," Watson said.
What he checks a few times daily are soil temperatures and the 10-day forecast.
The optimal soil temperature for placing seed in the ground is between 50 and 55 degrees, he said.
He wants those seeds to germinate, not languish in the soil.
Last year, due to a rainy and chilly April, many area farmers planted later than what's typical for East Central Illinois. Watson planted around May 14.
"On the calendar it was a month behind, but as far as heat available and temperature, it was right on. It was best corn crop we've ever raised," he said.
The soil temperatures were so warm at the time of planting, the seedlings emerged quickly out of the ground, he said.
"The faster out of the ground, the less stress" on the plant, he said.
Soil temperatures in Champaign, measured at 4 inches deep, ranged from 38.3 degrees at 10 a.m. Sunday to 48.2 degrees at 5 p.m. Sunday, according to the Illinois State Water Survey.
In addition to monitoring soil temperatures, Watson has been keeping busy delivering last year's corn to the local grain elevator and, since his family operates a seed dealership, organizing seed deliveries to customers.
Murray said he was a bit surprised to hear reports of area soil temperatures coming in around 43 degrees.
"If we had a week of 70- to 75-degree weather, we would not have much problems getting there (to 50 degrees), but the forecast doesn't look too favorable," he said.
Murray, like Watson, also is a seed dealer and has been getting ready for upcoming seed deliveries. However, he does not anticipate many customers getting into the field next week.
As corn prices back off their highs, Warfel said he is hearing about some farmers shifting away from a 60-40 ratio of planting corn and soybeans and moving a notch closer to the traditional 50-50 ratio.
Watson also said he doesn't think he'll see as much corn planted in fields that grew corn last year as was the case in recent years, but doesn't expect a dramatic shift away from that practice.
"We're still having conversations about how to manage corn on corn. It's still out there," he said.
But the later into the year that planting is delayed, "the easier the decision to plant soybeans," he said. Farmers typically plant corn first, then soybeans, which ideally are planted in May but can be planted in Illinois into early June.
In looking at the calendar, Warfel said farmers are not likely to get uptight until about the second week of May.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's outlook for April, below-average temperatures are likely to continue in our region.
But forecasts can always change or be wrong, Murray pointed out.
"Hopefully the next couple weeks are warmer for everyone," Murray said.