It only stands to reason a later-than-normal harvest season follows a spring in which most of the soybean and corn fields were not planted until middle to late May and even early June.
But that logic doesn’t make it any easier for area farmers to accept.
The one point all agriculture professionals can agree on as this late harvest is about to finally begin in the next week or two is this: 2019 has been a most trying year.
“I think one thing farmers would all agree on is that everyone is anxious to put 2019 in the rear-view mirror,” said Chad Miller, Kankakee County Farm Bureau manager.
“Some years you are glad to finish, and you can look forward to a fresh start. I believe that is this year,” Miller added.
Even with an estimated 25 to 30 percent fewer corn and soybean acres planted in Kankakee County this year because of wet spring weather — an estimated 56,000 acres of the estimated 342,000 total farming acres — harvest will not likely be completed until mid-November, Miller said.
Miller might be optimistic. Others believe harvest will stretch into December.
The midweek rains did not help shorten that time window.
In western Kankakee County, Herscher-area farmer Matt Perreault farms 1,300 acres with his father, Bret. They had planned on planting 900 to 950 acres of corn and anther 400 of soybeans.
They wound up planting only 143 acres of corn — about 15 percent of what they had targeted — and 450 acres of soybeans. Most of the remaining acreage was planted with wheat seed as a cover to simply keep the crop active and limit weed growth.
The wheat will be worked into the soil this fall.
He said if the weather would cooperate, they could begin soybean harvest in about five days. The time is needed to let the ground dry so the combine doesn’t sink.
“It would normally take us about three weeks to harvest our corn. I think this year we’ll get it done in one-and-a-half days,” he said.
Kankakee County harvest is running at least one month behind schedule. Farmers would normally have the vast majority of soybeans harvested by the beginning of October.
In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Illinois has harvested just 1 percent of its soybeans and 4 percent of its corn for the week ending Sept. 29.
By comparison, Illinois farmers had 32 percent of the soybean crop and 45 percent of the corn under roof at that same point in 2018.
“I don’t see any way harvest can be wrapped up before Thanksgiving,” Perreault said. “Corn that was planted late is at least three to four weeks before we can even think about harvesting it.
“We are certainly ready to put 2019 in the books. That is the vibe from around the country. We have a long fall [harvest season] ahead of us, and it’s already October.”
While western Kankakee County deals with heavier soil, eastern Kankakee County has lighter, somewhat more sandy soil. The lighter soil allowed those farmers to get planting done somewhat sooner and aids in harvesting as well.
Results, however, in terms of yields, will not be nearly as strong.
Eastern Kankakee County farmer Paula Karlock, whose family farms between Momence and the Indiana state line, said they were unable to get 11 percent of their acreage planted. They lost an additional 10 percent because of flooding.
To date, their harvest has not yet begun. She said she believes it will be another two weeks as they were unable to plant in April.
“We will be fortunate to be done by the end of November,” she said. She said harvest will be slow due to what will be most likely be high moisture content in corn. This situation means the corn will need to be dried as its harvested.
The artificial drying process is slow.
“Unfortunately we are not going to be finished for quite a while,” she said.
The Kankakee County Corn Growers Association held its farm survey in late August and estimated its corn acreage to yield 174 bushels per acre. That figure means for the corn acreage planted. If the total corn acres were factored in, the average yields would plummet.
Concerning only the corn acres planted, Miller said corn production will be down 10 to 15 percent countywide.
That fact, Miller said, will have a ripple effect as the farm economy will tighten as farmers will pull in the reins on spending. Even farmers with crop insurance protection will not see swelling bank accounts.
This will be a year of survival rather than expansion.
“We’re hoping for some pleasant surprises out there,” Miller said. To have any hope of a good yield, the region needs to not hear the word “frost” for at least two to three weeks.
A late frost will help the grain reach its maturity.
“Time will tell what’s out there. We are all eagerly anticipating what the numbers will bring,” Miller said.
The loss of production will likely lead to higher food costs and grain to feed livestock will rise due to lower supplies.
Profitable farming here is vitally important. Of Kankakee County’s economy, 17 percent of it is connected to agriculture, according to farm bureau statistics.
EARLY PLANTING RESULTS
Farmers who were able to get seed into the ground in mid- to late April are predictably ahead of the game. One such farmer is Clay Abbott, of Momence.
Abbott said soybean yields in the 200 acres he and his uncles have harvested thus far have come in between 50 and 70 bushels per acre. Those results are the good news. The bad news? They were only able to plant about half of their beans and only a small portion of their corn in April.
“I foresee our yields getting worse as we go” into the later plantings, Abbott said.
He noted last fall they were picking corn on Sept. 10. He thinks corn harvest can begin soon, but it’ll be about one month later than 2018; and they have about 3,000 acres of corn to gather.
“Those are the early numbers. We have a ways to go. I’m hoping for a good run. I’m hoping for a good 2020.”