Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Harvest and Fieldwork Finished in Illinois

I am finished with fieldwork for 2021. Yield-wise, this has been the best overall year in my 40-plus-year farming career. However, it has held plenty of challenges with weather and input prices.

Fall has been very wet in my area in the heart of the U.S. Midwest along the Mississippi River. In October, we were not able to work in the fields on 20 different days because of rains or because it was too wet. However, that does mean that the Mississippi River is at a very good depth, running between 3 and 3.7 meters, or between 10 and 12 feet beyond the minimum depth needed for navigation. That means crops can move easily toward ports in the Gulf of Mexico this fall.

I started harvesting double-crop soybeans the first weekend of November, and I finished on November 8. Yields were very good, and it was the best double-crop I ever raised.

Between harvesting full-season and double-crop soybeans, I planted 48.5 hectares, or 120 acres, of winter wheat. It was planted during the third week of October, just before more rain. A cold snap followed the rain, but the crop has now emerged well and it is looking good.

My hired man and I also worked on applying fall fertilizer and incorporating it with fall tillage as field conditions allowed throughout October and early November. We spread dry fertilizer needed for the next crop in each field, and then we work it into the ground so it will stay in place.

The fields planted to corn this year will be planted to soybeans next year. We disk those fields with a vertical tillage tool that breaks up and levels out the corn stalks, just stirring the very top of the soil to create a firm seedbed for the soybeans next season.

The soybean fields harvested this fall will be planted with corn next year. We chisel plow these fields to help create an environment for corn roots grow deep into this heavy black ground next spring. The photo shows the worked ground in one of my last fields. Look closely to see my view of downtown St. Louis, Missouri, from this particular field.

With both harvest and fall fieldwork finished, we are cleaning and fixing equipment and putting it away so that it will be ready to go next year.

In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with seed dealers to select soybean varieties and corn hybrids to plant next year. Before the end of December, I will also order other inputs for next year, including additional fertilizer and herbicide, which will cost more than twice as much as they did last year. My primary input supplier has already recommended that I choose soybean seed tolerance to multiple herbicides next year because it may be difficult to get the herbicide I usually rely on due to supply chain challenges.

That means next season will bring a whole different set of challenges that I won’t be able to predict. Much like I could not have predicted that I would harvest three really good crops this year when I was closing flood gates early this spring, and then started planting. Rains delayed later planting, but then we had dry weather that impacted weed control and reduced Mississippi River levels. But then it started raining again in late June, and I closed my flood gate again. The weather pattern brought lots of rain, followed by lots of hot dry weather, as I worked to protect crop yield and quality. Despite the weather swings, I began harvesting what turned out to be my best crop ever in early September, and soybean harvest was excellent, even though rain slowed it down.

Old-timers say that if you harvest two good crops, watch out for a tough year. And in this area, we are past due for a bad year. But as this year showed, we can’t predict what will happen. So as a U.S. soybean farmer, I will keep doing my best to contribute to our large, reliable, high-quality supply of soy. Even with the challenges, I love my job.

This field update is funded by the soybean checkoff. To share or republish part or all of this Ground Work 2021 article, please link to the original article and credit www.USSOY.org.

Daryl Cates

Daryl Cates grows soybeans, corn, wheat and double crop soybeans on his farm near Columbia, Illinois. He started farming with his father in 1980 after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in agronomy. He currently serves as the secretary of the American Soybean Association and is involved in WISHH. He and his wife Sandy have three adult children, Drew, Brett married to Stephanie, and Megan.