By STEVE BINDER
MT. VERNON, Ill. — When asked last week when he might actually get his 400 acres of corn in the ground, Jefferson County farmer John Simmons scratched his head as if perplexed.
“Well, that is a good question. Last year I was already in. The year before it was the middle of April, I believe. This year it probably will be at least the end of the month; maybe the first of May,” Simmons said.
Oh, what a difference a year can make. In 2011, the planting season was set back because of excessive moisture and outright flooding conditions in the Mississippi River Valley. Last year, Mother Nature bathed the region in sunshine and warmer-than-normal conditions and most growers began planting in March.
This year, lower-than-normal temperatures and much-needed rains have kept soil conditions colder and wetter than usual.
“Right now, the ground is just saturated. It’s the total opposite from a year ago,” said Steve Ayers, a Champaign County farmer who watched as 12 inches of snow fell on his land two weeks ago. “Ideally, you like to plant corn between April 15 and April 30. That’s unrealistic at this stage, except for maybe toward the end of the month.”
Topsoil temperatures throughout the state last week ranged between 31-37 degrees, whereas last year at this time topsoil pushed the 60-degree mark. In Illinois last year at this time, about 5 percent of the state’s corn crop was planted in March. By April 15, about 40 percent of the crop was in the ground.
According to the National Weather Service’s long-term outlook for Illinois, temperatures through April 21 are expected to be lower than normal, with increased chances of rain throughout.
So while that may ensure a late start for most growers, northern Illinois farmer Ryan Frieders said the extra moisture after last year’s drought conditions is welcome.
“We still have snow piles and the temperature is cool … but I’m not complaining about the snow or moisture at all. It definitely will help in the long run,” he said.
In southern Illinois, generally the warmest part of the state, moisture has kept most farmers out of the fields completely.
And it would take nearly two weeks of dry, warmer conditions for farmers to begin prepping their ground for planting, said Jackson County grower Dean Shields.
The weather even has prevented most farmers from applying nitrogen to their wheat fields, he said. “It’s going to be a late start for us.
The wheat looked good over the winter, but with the lack of nitrogen, it’s getting a little pale,” Shields added.
As of last week, the state’s winter wheat crop was still in good shape, with 65 percent rated as good to excellent, according to the University of Illinois ag department.