The roller-coaster ride that was the 2013 growing season in northwest Illinois is in its homestretch, with area farmers wrapping up a soybean harvest that has many of them thinking “what if”.
The extreme weather conditions ran the gamut – worries last fall on the heels of a drought, too much rain in some areas during the spring, a brutal 7-week dry spell in July and August, and colder-than-normal evening temperatures late in the soybean season.
Most area farmers have all their beans out of the fields or are down to the last few acres. The final USDA field reports won’t be in until early next year, but Lee County crop watcher Larry Hummel says that he would characterize the area’s soybean season as “average or a little below average”.
That assessment leaves him with mixed feelings regarding the 47 bushels an acre he says he’ll probably average on the 500 acres of beans on his own farm on the southeast edge of Dixon. That’s about 10 percent below his average for beans.
“Around here we got crops in on time, had good moisture going in, and we were off to a really good start,” Hummel said.
Then the roller coaster headed south.
Spring rains – April, May and June – brought more than 17 inches of moisture to the area, but farmers received only a little over 3 inches in the next 3 months combined. High hopes in early July were dashed by the ensuing drought conditions.
“From where it was in July, it was disappointing,” Hummel said. “We had the potential for a good, even record-setting yield, and then we took a big hit with the drought in August. We’re still happy with what we got, but we had such high hopes earlier.”
Jim Schielein, who has more than 500 acres of soybeans and corn near Dixon, said he came in at about 48 bushels an acre on the beans. He said that given the crop stress of this season, yields could vary considerably within a pretty small area.
“Whoever caught a shower at critical times, it could make a big difference,” he said. “Amboy caught late rain I didn’t get. You can go down the road a couple miles and see totally different weather.”
Schielein said his yield stacks up pretty well with those who got those fortuitous late showers. He said early assessments indicate that most area fields were in the upper 50s to lower 60s on soybean yield per acre.
Expectations were high early, however, with many area farmers coming off what Schielein calls “a phenomenal bean year”.
“Last year was a record for me, at about a 66 bushel average,” Schielein said. “This year wasn’t a home run, but it was better than I thought it would be with the conditions.”
In a dry stretch that rivaled the catastrophic drought of 1988, when area soybean yields saw averages in the 20s, some farmers say they have a new appreciation for the marked improvements in genetics.
“The last several years, seed companies keep telling us that genetics are getting better and better,” Schielein said. “After the stress this crop went through, these yields make a believer out of me.”
Rain or pain?
Area rainfall as measured in inches at southeast edge of Dixon.