William C Bailey
School of Agriculture
Western Illinois University
Despite the recent snow, spring is on the way. And that means Illinois farmers are preparing to plant a lot of corn and soybeans. During a recent drive around central Illinois, I spotted numerous pieces of farm equipment moved out of the shed with farmers preparing the equipment for spring tasks.
Soon, as we drive around the state, we will patiently follow similar large farm equipment moving from field to field, as they plant or prepare to plant crops. Underscoring the approach of spring, I saw, near Jerseyville, the green fuzz of winter wheat peeking out of the ground.
But as always each spring, problems could arise. This year one concern after the long winter is when the ground will become warm enough for planting. Getting the seed into the ground too early, that is before the soil warms up, can harm germination and potentially reduce yields.
However, as seen last year, getting the crop planted early can be important if things turn wet later in the spring and the crop is not yet planted. Traditionally corn planting activity starts the first part of April, although there are always a few producers who want to be among the first to plant and may get out in the fields earlier than others. So farmers are closely watching temperatures to determine when the soil is ready. And if temperatures turn cold again, spring planting activities could be delayed.
The first official estimate of how many acres of corn and soybeans could be planted this spring is the “Prospective Planting Report” from the US Department of Agriculture, to be released on March 31. Last year, Illinois farmers planted about 12 million acres of corn – an area equal to 18,750 square miles, roughly two New Hampshires. About 9 million acres of soybeans were also planted, an area greater than the state of Maryland. Expectations are for fewer acres of corn but more soybean acres this year. Regardless of whether the land is planted to corn or soybeans, more than half of Illinois will experience crop planting activity this spring.
While the most visible activity during spring planting is the farm equipment on the road or out in the field, a lot of other spring tasks are currently underway. The seeds used for planting must be delivered to the local dealer or directly to the farmer; various chemicals used before, during or after planting must be positioned for quick access; spare parts, in anticipation of equipment problems, placed in dealer inventory and all of the paper work required by a variety of government programs must be addressed.
After the tough winter we have experienced, the reality of spring seems a long way off. But it will arrive and when it does, a large part of Illinois will spring to life, in a variety of ways.
Professor Bailey formerly was the Chief Economist for the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition. He also has served as Deputy-Under Secretary of Agriculture.