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Weatherman: Recent rains won’t satisfy Illinois fields
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Counties in central Illinois still feeling the effects of 2005’s extreme drought conditions received much-needed rainfall in early March, though Illinois State Climato-logist Jim Angel said overall soil moisture is still lacking as far as area farmers are concerned.

Rainfall amounts for the tri-county area of central Illinois’ river valley (Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford) for March range from 1.89 inches in the Woodford County town of Congerville to 2.4 inches in Peoria, with Peoria County receiving the most precipitation overall to date.

“Even with these rains, Peoria is down 12.8 inches since March 1 of 2005,” Angel told Farm World.

“That doesn’t mean that we need 12 inches in March to catch up, but it does mean that we need a lot of rain over a over a long period of time to recover not only the soil moisture but also streams, lakes, ponds and wells.”

Angel went on to say that soil moisture is still a concern to central Illinois farmers, as the state’s soil moisture survey shows that a 40-72 inch depth survey around Peoria confirmed the “very dry” conditions.

“That could be a problem in July and August if we use up the soil moisture in the upper layers like we did last year,” said Angel, who recently hosted a drought preparation workshop for Ill. farmers through the Ill. State Water Survey, Ill. Dept. of Natural Resources. “As it stands, we certainly have enough soil moisture for planting and germination and early growth. If we get normal to above-normal rainfall this summer at even intervals, we could make it - otherwise, we are vulnerable to even short dry periods of a few weeks.”

According to the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service’s March 5 crop-weather report, February precipitation averaged 1.93 inches across the state, or nearly an inch below normal.

Subsoil moisture levels were cited as a major concern before March’s much-welcomed rains.

“Many farmers are hauling water for livestock and wells since farm ponds are very low and tiles are not running. More rainfall will be needed this spring to improve subsoil moisture and conditions. Topsoil moisture was 20 percent very short, 47 percent short, 32 percent adequate and 1 percent surplus,” read the summary of statewide conditions.

“Evidence of severe precipitation deficits in much of northern and central Illinois in March through June of 2005 remained in January 2006 (in the form of) low stream flows, depleted soil moisture, and low groundwater and reservoir levels,” said Derek Winstanley, chief of the Illinois State Water Survey.

Winstanley also expressed concern that an unusually mild winter in the Midwest would affect soil moisture levels.

“This year there is no snow and ice cover; hence, no water to release. Climate conditions this spring will be critical for water availability and supplies,” Winstanley said.

For updates on Illionis drought conditions, see the State Water Survey’s website at www.sws.uiuc.edu/atmos/statecli/

This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.

3/22/2006