Sustainability

Ground Work 2021: Planting Delays in Illinois

After a good start to planting, rains at the end of April and the beginning of May interrupted us and kept us out of the fields for two weeks. The rain came in manageable amounts, between .5 and 2.5 cm, or ¼ to 1 inch, at a time. But, as soon as the fields were almost dry enough to start working again, another rain would come.

My hired man and I got back into the field the second week of May, and we were able to finish planting corn before we got more rain over the weekend. The corn that was planted in mid-April has emerged, and the stand looks good so far, even though it took 15 days to come up because of cool soil temperatures. Now, as field conditions allow, we will concentrate on planting soybeans.

My system for planting soybeans has fewer steps than planting corn. I have already spread dry fertilizer to add sulfur to many of the soybean fields, and we are continuing to add it to more of them. Some of the fields have already been worked to incorporate that fertilizer into the soil. I plan to apply a combination of a burndown and residual herbicides to control both emerged and future weeds in the soybean fields, and then plant the soybeans immediately.

Apart from equipment breakdowns and weather delays, we can plant soybeans with a week of good days. However, breakdowns always happen, and we can’t control the weather.

Because it has been so wet, I am adjusting my planting plans as needed. I will probably plant soybeans instead of corn on about 14 hectares, or 35 acres. This change in plans means that I will have enough dry sulfur fertilizer that most of the soybean fields will be treated. I will be paying attention throughout the season to see how that impacts crop growth and yield.

Despite the rains, the Mississippi River has stayed below flood stage, and by the end of the month, it is predicted to be down to about 3 meters, or 10 feet. The river has stayed down long enough this spring that some areas of fields that have had seep water on them in the spring for years may dry up enough to plant. However, the challenge will be controlling the cattails that grow in those areas. I have worked with an agronomic advisor to come up with a plan to manage them in the corn planted there.

The winter wheat looks excellent. It is fully headed and pollinating. And because it is looking so good, I decided to invest more than usual in protecting its quality. Last week, a helicopter applied a combination of insecticide to control aphids and stinkbugs and a fungicide to protect against head scab to the wheat. I would have liked to watch, but I was working in another field to get corn planted.

It’s been a tough spring, but I know it could be worse. I’ve talked to friends farming in other parts of the U.S. that desperately need rain, and other friends who have gotten so much rain that they haven’t planted anything at all. I am thankful that I have been able to plant my crops and that we have plenty of moisture to support a strong start.

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.