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Crop Tech Tour: Seed technology proves itself

LINCOLN, Illinois (Agriculture Online)--Agriculture Online's Crop Tech Tour on Wednesday visited farms in Illinois, where the resiliency of this year's production is being seen, despite some tough conditions.

After driving three hours south of Chicago, the first operation with combines running was of Jeff Martin and his son, Doug.

The land they farm is considered good-yielding soil in Logan County. Despite the crop growing problems resulting from late planting, wet and cool conditions, and now a late harvest, the Martins are satisfied with the corn yields they are seeing so far this year.

"This 146-acre corn field we're harvesting, planted April 24, was four feet under water at one time this year. So, to get the yields between 180-200 bushels per acre is pretty good," Doug Martin says.

With weather forecasts calling for heavy rains this week, the season doesn't appear to be getting any easier.

Like the Martins, it's possible many farmers will face higher drying costs for their wet-harvested corn. "Each year, you budget in drying costs for part of your crop. But, if we have to dry down all of our corn from 25% to 15%, that's $70 per acre we didn't figure in for this year," Doug Martin says. And one topic few are talking about is how a late harvest makes it more difficult to fall apply the nitrogen. "That's another reason we may have to pick this corn wet to get done harvesting by Thanksgiving or even December," Doug Martin says.

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Doug Martin, a Latham, Illinois farmer checks his corn that he just combined. He says the corn moisture is high and the yields are above average.

Keeping up on the technology

Like many more U.S. producers are doing, the Martins have embraced technology on their operations. "We have installed the yield monitors, use mapping methods to plant on those measured rows," Doug Martin says. "We have been using strip-tillage practices. We lay down our strips in the fall and with RTK-auto steer equipment we plant on top of those strips.

Martin adds, "Technology isn't cheap, but I just feel like I have to adopt to stay up with the industry. For instance, treated corn is about $315 per bag, but the refuge corn yields 20-30 bushels lower than treated seeds."

With so many hurdles in this year's growing season, the modern seed technology is proving its value. "I had crops that didn't get enough growing-degree days, suffered from diplodia disease (corn rot) and had way too much moisture in a short period of time, but today's seed has shown it can outlast and outperform previous crops," Martin says.

Informed landlords

Meanwhile, the Martins farm both land they own and rented ground. Because the landlords of the rented land like to remain informed, these central Illinois farmers have started a web site to post comments, photos, and receive feedback from their landlords in California.

"I'm always posting pictures of the crop growing or of it being planted so they (landlords) can feel in touch. The web site is a great way for us to communicate," the younger Martin says. To view the Martin website visit: martinfamilyfarms.org.

Keeping under wraps

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Semi-tractor trailers line up to haul corn away from harvested fields near Easton, Illinois. Most of this corn will be hauled to a nearby elevator and then onto the Mississippi river for export.

The Crop Tech Tour day wrapped up watching an Easton, Illinois producer harvest corn. Farming 14,000 acres of partly owned and rented land, this farmer says he has so many concerns about his occupation that he requested to remain anonymous.

"In all of my years of farming, this year I had the longest planting season, the latest maturing crops, and now prices are making me operate just below profitability," he says. With lower crop prices and higher input costs, this Illinois farmer stresses the need for a closer relationship with his banker.
"Considering what has happened to the big banks, I'm thankful the local bank I deal with has such a good relationship with me. It's hard telling what a larger bank would do to my operation considering my lower profits and higher equipment expenses."

Martin agrees that the current central Illinois cash corn prices at $3.30 per bushel need to reach the $4.00 level in order for his operation to break-even, based on an average yield. Hoping for better prices in late winter-early spring, many farmers say they will store corn that comes off of the combine.

Questioning soil conservation

The Brazilian reporters traveling with the Agriculture Online team on this tour asked farmers about their environmental practices. "I think it's very important that we take care of this soil for the next generation of farmers," Jeff Martin says. "We try to do our part on this farm."

Meanwhile, the anonymous farmer says current soil practices are backfiring. "I agree we have to be environmentally conscious. However, it appears practices such as minimum tillage is causing more diseases."

LINCOLN, Illinois (Agriculture Online)--Agriculture Online's Crop Tech Tour on Wednesday visited farms in Illinois, where the resiliency of this year's production is being seen, despite some tough conditions.

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