SPRINGFIELD — Last week's cooler temperatures and above-normal rainfall improved Illinois soil moisture and perked up the soybean crop a bit.
Plus, the corn harvest picked up steam, with 3 percent of the state's corn crop harvested as of Sunday, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Crop observers said 25 percent of the state's corn crop was mature, far ahead of the same time last year, when only 2 percent was mature.
As of Sunday, 42 percent of the Illinois corn crop was considered very poor, 31 percent poor, 22 percent fair and 5 percent good. None was considered excellent.
Soybeans were in somewhat better shape, though more than half the state's crop was deemed poor or very poor.
Specifically, 26 percent was considered very poor, 25 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 13 percent good and 1 percent excellent.
The percentages deemed good or fair were up slightly from the previous week, while the percentages considered poor or very poor were down slightly.
In the state's east region, which includes the Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Kankakee areas, topsoil moisture improved considerably this past week.
As of Sunday, 9 percent of the topsoil had adequate moisture, 42 percent was short on moisture and 49 percent was very short.
The previous week, only 2 percent had adequate moisture, 37 percent was short and 61 percent was very short.
UI scientist: '88 drought worse in some ways
URBANA — Corn yields may have been cut more by the 1988 drought than by this year's drought, in terms of percentage, a University of Illinois crop scientist said.
Projections by Emerson Nafziger indicate a loss in expected yield of 33 percent this year, compared with a loss in expected yield of 44 percent in 1988.
Times have changed, of course.
In 1988, the expected trend-line yield was 129 bushels per acre. This year — with faster-growing, higher-yielding hybrids — the expected trend-line yield was 173 bushels per acre.
In 1988, the average Illinois corn yield turned out to be 73 bushels per acre. That was 56 bushels lower — or nearly 44 percent less — than the expected yield.
This year, the projected Illinois corn yield is 116 bushels per acre, a figure that could still change. But if the projection holds, that would be 57 bushels lower — or 33 percent less — than the expected yield.
In a UI news release, Nafziger said farmers should take note of any hybrids that fare better than others during this year's dry conditions.
But he cautioned against relying too much on this year's data, noting that "we have no reason to expect drought in 2013."
Insurer shares fire prevention tips for harvest
VILLA GROVE — As harvest gets under way, Central Illinois Mutual Insurance Co. and Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Co. are suggesting ways to prevent field fires during an ultra-dry season.
"With weeks and weeks of dry weather, it doesn't take much to ignite a fire that can destroy nearby fields, fences, buildings and other property," said Terry Hintz, a Grinnell Mutual claims adjuster, in a news release.
Nearly 700 combine fires are reported each year. The causes, according to Grinnell, include equipment malfunctions, low combine headers that scrape rocks and cause sparks, and smoldering chaff or oil that builds up on the combine and drops to the field.
The company suggested heeding tips from Mark Hanna of Iowa State University Extension:
— Carry two fire extinguishers: a 10-pound unit in the cab and a 20-pound unit at ground level on the combine. Invert the extinguishers occasionally, and shake them to make sure the powder hasn't been compacted by machine vibrations.
— Have tillage equipment present during harvest. If a fire breaks out, the equipment can be used to help create a barrier around the field perimeter and keep the fire from spreading.
— Equip motorized equipment with small hand shovels so soil can be thrown on a fire. Keep a cellphone nearby.
— Minimize truck traffic during harvest. Grain trucks with exhaust systems below the chassis can ignite field fires.
— Blow leaves, dust and chaff off engines if compressed air is available.
Pasture restoration subject of workshop
CERRO GORDO — Drought has taken a toll on pastures this year, and University of Illinois Extension is offering a workshop to help landowners restore pastures for next spring.
The workshop, "Restoring and Managing Pastures After Drought," will be offered from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Lamplight Farm and Stables, 210 E. 150 North Road, Cerro Gordo.
Jim Morrison, retired Extension specialist, and Debra Hagstrom, equine Extension specialist, will discuss soil fertility, grazing systems, poisonous weeds and ornamental plants. The workshop will conclude with a pasture walk.
The Horsemen's Council of Illinois will furnish drinks, breakfast pastries and snacks.
Registration is $20.
To register online, go to https://webs.extension.uiuc.edu/dmp  by Sept. 5 or call Myla Ringler at the Piatt County Extension office at 762-2191.