|By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — In July, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked for and received federal permission to declare most of the state’s counties disaster areas for farmers.
The designation allowed farmers to apply for low-interest loans and other programs intended to help alleviate financial loss caused by a summer-long drought that shortened the area’s rainfall amount by more than 10 inches and stunted corn production.
While some central Illinois farmers certainly needed the help, many are reporting average to above-average corn harvests after all, said John Aschliman, manager of Grainland Elevators, which operates grain elevators in El Paso, Secor, and Eureka in Woodford County.
“Considering the dry June and July, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the harvest, overall,” Aschliman reported Sept. 29. “As a whole I’d say the corn harvest is average to a little below average from a typical year.”
With more than 30 percent of the state’s corn harvest complete, the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service (IASS) estimates the state’s producers will harvest an average of 136 bushels per acre of corn this year. The figure represents a 22 percent decline from 2004’s bumper corn crop, but not bad when compared with a typical year.
Aschliman said some farmers near El Paso and Kappa are harvesting as little as 50 bushels per acre, while their neighbors fare much better.
“Two miles away a different farmer is harvesting 200 bushels,” Aschliman said. “It all depends on if they got any rain.”
Aschliman said the corn he’s seen so far has been healthy and relatively free of stress and disease, though a little high in moisture content.
“Good rains in August helped put weight in the kernels. We’re seeing 22-23 percent moisture, with a 56-58 pound test weight. And (toxins) have not been a big problem so far,” said Aschliman.
Corn harvest amounts seem to vary widely across the central Illinois area, depending almost entirely on where the rain fell, according to reports.
In mid-September, Peoria County Farm Bureau manager Patrick Kirchoffer told news sources that overall, corn yields could average more than 20 bushels per acre better than expected. The same report, published by the Peoria Journal Star, named a Chillicothe farmer who said his corn harvest averaged only 16 acres, down 90 percent from 2004.
The Illinois Ag Connection reported Sept. 29 that farmers are averaging around 100-120 bushels, with a moisture content of 20-21 percent. Mark Jacobs, manager of the Graymont Grain Elevator, said prices are remaining low because most producers still have excess product.
“The low commodity prices are because the old crop (last year’s) is still not sold,” Jacobs said.
With fuel prices at an all-time high and prices remaining low (down from $2.34 to $1.89, according to the IASS), producers will still have a difficult time realizing a profit on their harvests this year. A recent University of Illinois Extension study estimates that producing this year’s crop will cost farmers an average of $206 per acre, a $35 per acre increase over previous years.
“Due to numerous factors, it’s hard to find anything positive for (farm) revenue this fall,” said Doug Yoder, director of marketing and risk management for the Illinois Farm Bureau. “If you couple that with higher energy costs, it’s certainly going to cut into revenue.”
The Illinois Extension study suggested that in light of lower revenue some farmers may need to renegotiate lower cash rents in order to realize some profit.
“The rise in diesel fuel prices has resulted in increased machinery costs for farmers,” said Dale Lattz, co-author of Effects of Higher Fuel Prices on Machinery Costs.
The report, which includes a table producers can use to determine their costs, is available at www.farmdoc.uiuc.edu/manage/newsletters/fefo05_17/fefo05_17.html
With the state’s soybean fields more than 20 percent harvested, Aschliman reported above-average returns.
“We’re average to above-average thanks to good August and September rains,” Aschliman noted. “With beans, we’re seeing 45-to-60 bushels per acre.”
According to the IASS, the forecast yield for soybeans is 41 bushels. Prices for beans were slightly lower than last year’s, according to the September Farm Report.