Corn crop ‘hanging on’
Rain needed soon, farmer says
DIXON – Lee County farmer Jim Schielein knows the heat is taking a toll on his corn crop.
Wednesday, he pointed to the leaves curling up on his Woosung farm.
“The plants are protecting themselves from the heat and the lack of moisture,” he said.
“It’s 84 or 85 degrees now. We get 100-degree heat tomorrow, it [crop] will look like pineapple.”
Across Illinois, the corn crop is taking a beating from the dry spell.
“If we don’t get rain in the next week to 10 days, some of the crop will be past the point of no return,” Schielein said.
See video from SVM's visit to the farm, as Schielein explains his concerns with the high heat
“The corn crop has done very well considering what it’s faced,” said Schielein, who farms in the Dixon, Woosung and Polo areas.
This weekend’s forecast includes, at most, a 30 percent chance of thunderstorms.
“Those are your afternoon heat-induced thunderstorms – the same thing we faced in 1983, 1988 and 2001,” said Schielein, who has farmed in the area since the mid-1980s. “If you were lucky that your farm fell underneath a thunderstorm, it made a difference whether you had a crop or not.”
As of last week, nearly two-thirds of the corn crop statewide was rated from very poor to fair, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At this time last year, less than a third of the crop fell in that category.
In Illinois, the average temperature was 77.4 degrees last week, 3.8 degrees above normal, according to the USDA. Rainfall was “almost nonexistent,” it said.
“With the lack of recent rainfall, crops in some areas of the state are showing ongoing signs of moisture stress,” the USDA said in its most recent weekly crop progress report.
Related: The heat is on
Last year, corn farmers had a banner year.
John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said soil moisture continues to be depleted.
“If you don’t have rain, you don’t have crops,” Hawkins said. “If it stays dry like right now through July, we’re not going to have much of a crop. If it rains anytime soon, we can still pull an OK crop. That’s the best you can hope for.”
In 2005, the state faced a drought. The Quad Cities area – the closest place where the National Weather Service has long kept detailed data – received 9.6 inches of rain from March to September 2005.
So far this year, the Quad Cities has seen 11.6 inches.
The Quad Cities’ data goes back 125 years. So far, this has been the 49th driest year, said Tom Philip, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Storm systems have moved toward the area recently, but because of the lack of moisture, they break up as they approach, Philip said.
“This dry pattern inhibits getting rain,” he said.
‘A farmer’s way of going to Vegas’
DIXON – Northern Illinois has suffered a dry spell, and that’s not been good for the corn crop.
But the weather has helped another crop, soft red winter wheat, which is being harvested earlier than usual. It is a variety that is used for livestock feed and products such as Ritz crackers.
Jim Schielein, a Lee County farmer, grows winter wheat every year. He was harvesting the crop on his Woosung farm this week.
“We’re 3 weeks ahead of where we normally are. There’s been years when I have combined wheat in the last week of July,” he said during an interview in his combine Wednesday afternoon.
Farmers in the area plant winter wheat in October. It grows for a while, but then becomes dormant as winter sets in. This year, because of the warm winter, it came out of dormancy in March, rather than in April.
Because of the quickened schedule, Schielein said he may be able to plant another crop during the growing season, known as double-cropping. This is rare in northern Illinois but more common in the southern part of the state.
“This is a farmer’s way of going to Vegas,” he said.
Schielein said he plans to plant soybeans once the wheat is harvested. He hopes for more rainfall so that he gets a good crop.
“There’s zero chance for the beans to grow until we have rain,” Schielein said.
He said that although wheat is uncommon in the area, he likes it because it’s a good crop for rotation, which helps the soil. Plus, he said, he has a market for the straw.