The waiting game: Local farmers anticipate an early harvest

With April's snowfall and damp conditions delaying crop planting, the maturity of East Central Illinois' corn in mid-September may leave some area residents scratching their heads. But for area farmers who monitor Mother Nature closely, the early harvest was no surprise.

"I was personally a week to 10 days later planting than I would normally like to be," said Kevan Parrett, who owns farmland north of Mahomet. "I got the crop in pretty good shape and then May and June were like gangbusters — heat and sunshine, which is what the corn crops love, and we had lots of it in those two months."

Craig Anderson, who farms northwest of Mahomet near the Piatt County line with brother Brian Anderson, said a decent corn crop is reliant on the number of good growing-degree days, rather than the number of calendar days.

"We had adequate rainfall all summer, but when you get the temperatures in the upper 80s and 90s and humidity is up, corn will continue to grow even at night when the temperatures are still relatively warm," Craig Anderson said. "Hence, we may be a week or 10 days ahead of harvest schedule."

Brother Brian Anderson is familiar with the saying knee high by the Fourth of July, but come the last week of June, he was shocked to see tassels on the corn.

"That's the earliest I ever remember seeing tassels," he said. "It was unbelievable."

Some may speculate global warming to be part of the reason, but the Anderson brothers say it is most likely a variety of variables.

"You've get new seed technologies, your chemicals and then you have Mother Nature. You've got your heat, you've got your moisture," Brian Anderson said. "Change one of those variables and it's going to change the whole thing. You don't have a defined formula for what you're trying to do."

Despite the growth, rains received earlier this month prevented farmers from breaking into the fields.

"Getting 4 inches of rain right at the start slowed us down a little bit," said Bill Jay, who is in his 20th crop in Seymour. "There are people already going and it's dryer than it should be but it's still not dry."

Timing is key to a successful harvest. Area farmers want their crops to be as dry as possible.

Craig Anderson said moisture on the corn is approximately 22 percent, but ideally, he wants to see it around 15 percent.

"There's a drying charge for any percent of moisture over 15 percent so it costs 3 cents for every 1 percent over 15," he said. "It would cost us 21 cents a bushel to dry that, and the cash price today you wouldn't hardly clear $3 per bushel by the time you pay for drying expenses."

With each passing day of the waiting game comes the risk of lessening plant quality, especially with crops susceptibility to wind damages.

"It's all about finding a happy medium," Brian Anderson said.

But with area farmers ranging in acreage of land to farm, it's hard for those still waiting to hop in the combine not to jump to comparisons.

"I have neighbors that have already started and that's driving me crazy." Parrett joked. "I just want to get out there and do something."

In the meantime, farmers are tuning up equipment and readying technology that assists with the harvest.

Parrett, a fourth-generation farmer, has been involved in his family's ag operations "since day one." The University of Illinois grad admits he is not a "technology native" but sees how the adoption of farming technology has improved his annual efforts.

"I took over the operation from my dad (Mervin Parrett) who helped me for years," Parrett said. "He went from harvesting corn with his hands and a wagon to sitting in a tractor and pushing a button and the tractor drives itself, so he went through a technology change that is hard to imagine."

"Some of it is daunting," he added. "But when it works, it's wonderful."

Farming technology now captures yield data vital for farmers to determine fertilizer and fertility of the following year's crop.

"That technology has come so far since our dad farmed," Brian Anderson said. "They basically just did the same practice every year. But now we're able to make more specific decisions on specific pieces of ground."

Brian Anderson said at the end of season, all it takes is the hit of a button to send harvest information to his fertilizer company. The data allows the fertilizer company to assess he and brother Craig Anderson's harvest maps and begin planning for spring.

"It's kind of amazing really," Brian Anderson added. "Every year when our dad farmed, they put the same type of fertilizer on, and now we take into account how much crop and how much fertility that we take out of the ground this year that we need to replace and then if we find spots that are lacking, then we need to bump that up."

"You're getting better use of your money instead of just spreading it throughout the field," he added.

All four farmers expect to begin their harvests within the week. The process takes anywhere from a seven to 10 days for a few of the farmers, while others expect to be in the fields until November.

"In 2009, we were in December before we quit only because it kept raining and it just drug out," Jay said. "Most of the time, it's around November, but it depends on the year."

And while each harvest season's results may vary, nothing beats the feeling after the farmers make the final pass around the field.

"Sometimes I'm happy I've completed it," Craig Anderson said. "I kind of go, 'Phew! Made it.'" He added. "But then when you are at the end of that last pass and you look around and there's nothing around you anymore, you kind of go, 'Well shoot, it's over.'"

But just as one season closes, another season's preparations begin. The earthly rhythm is one that Parrett said he is proud to be a part of in his north of Mahomet operations.

"I don't really have anything else to compare it to," Parrett joked. "But I really enjoy East Central Illinois. I enjoy the work ethic and comradery of local farmers. It's just been a good experience. It's not a position that you get rich and powerful in, but if you work hard and do a good job you can make a good living and raise a family."

Categories (2):News, Agriculture


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