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Crop optimism waning in Illinois

  • 01

    I got a look at how the late-developing corn and soybean crops in Woodford County, Illinois, this week. With no significant rain for nearly a month, farmers are starting to see large cracks in the soil and signs of nitrogen deficiencies. As the crops head into August, agronomic concerns are showing up above and below ground.

  • 02

    Dave Mowers, a consulting agronomist for AIM for the Heartland, Inc., says this year's corn crop will be made in August versus the normal timeframe of July. "We're in a critical stage for the next 10-days," Mowers says. This central Illinois corn shows a shortage of both nitrogen and potassium.

  • 03

    "The crops are looking deceptively good from the road," Mowers says. But, the real challenges of the crops show deeper in the field. This photo illustrates the cracks forming in the dry fields. The cool temperatures are limiting the damage, but this crop needs moisture to finish. The corn is in the brown-silk stage.

  • 04

    After digging as deep as a shovel's blade and still not finding sufficient moisture, Randy Shertz, a Eureka, Illinois farmer, says this field has had little rain for a month. "We're fortunate this soil holds moisture fairly well," he says. But, there are still no signs of moisture after digging down 16-18 inches.

  • 05

    Shertz holds a fist-full of very dry soil. "If the August weather is 85 degrees and rain, we will add to the corn crop. But, heat with no rain will not help this crop finish," he says. Shertz's on-farm corn yield average is 210 bushels per acre. Last year's drought caused yields to drop to 125 bu/acre. "Last year was the worst crop-year in 35 years of farming," Shertz says.

  • 06

    Shertz and his crop consultant Mowers conducted a root check of this central Illinois field. Mowers says the entire root ball should be bigger, but has been set back by sidewall compaction. Also, the lengths of the roots are not as long as they should be, Mowers says. The good news is there is no corn borer pressure.

  • 07

    Up above the ground, the corn in Woodford County, Illinois, is starting to get invaded by Japanese beetles. The population threshold is not to the point that farmers have to spray for them yet. But, it's something to watch.

  • 08

    Shertz checks his corn that is headed for the kernel-fill stage. This photo shows a case of an ear that finished pollination successfully. Eureka, Illinois, set a new nighttime low this week at 51 degrees. This slows the corn's maturation. "We need to get through August and then hope an early frost doesn't come before the 'black' layer stage," Shertz says.

  • 09

    Shertz and Mowers inspect this soybean field that is across the road from Shertz's place. You'll notice the soybean plants are short and slow developing. Like corn, the soybeans were planted about a month late and run the risk of being hurt by frost in the fall, Mowers says.

  • 10

    The good news for this soybean field is that it still has potential to put on pods and produce a higher-than-average yield. It has good plant stands and has little weed pressure. This field is in its flower-to-pod-setting stage. "As most people know, it's really hard to measure soybean fields until after August," Mowers says.

  • 11

    As you look closer into this Woodford, Illinois soybean field, you can see insect pressure building. The Japanese beetles start out by nibbling on a bean leaf. It doesn't take long before the beetles' feasting starts to show its yield-cutting impact.

  • 12

    In the same soybean field, a leaf just a few plants away showed in the previous photo, has been totally destroyed by the Japanese beetles. Some central Illinois farmers are beginning to spray soybeans for insect pressure.

  • 13

    Shertz expects a 10-20 bushels per acre bump from spraying his corn with fungicides. Yield losses start to occur when the fungus affects the upper-third of the plant above the ear. As corn prices fall, it's important for each farmer to calculate the economics of purchasing fungicides, Mowers says.

  • 14

    With the critical crop-weather month of August ahead, Mowers is projecting a U.S. 2013 corn crop yielding 7% above the trendline yield of 150 bushels/acre. Mowers sees 10% of the U.S. corn crop averaging 225 bu/acre, 20% at 195 bu/acre, 20% averaging 165 bu/acre, 30% at 150 bu/acre, 16% averaging trendline and 4% recording no yield.

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Corn and soybeans are showing pest and weather damage in central Illinois. Will they make trend yield this fall?

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