Farmers, other outside businesses hope for dry days

Steve Tarter and Paul Gordon

Milton Smith just got started planting corn on his Princeville farm when rain put everything on hold - a feeling that's becoming familiar to farmers and other area businessmen.

Like farmers across the state, Smith is waiting to get his crop in the ground and is concerned that each day of delay this spring means less corn in the fall. And the day of delay Wednesday came with almost an inch of rain falling in the Peoria area.

Only 10 percent of the state's corn crop had been planted, according to Monday's crop report from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. By the same time last year, 55 percent of the corn crop was in the ground, the report noted.

"We've already lost a lot of yield. (Because of the late start) we'll probably be fighting insects this summer," said Smith, referring to rootworm beetles that attack less mature corn plants in the summer.

John Hawkins, spokesman for the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau, noted that the optimum time for planting corn in central Illinois - May 10 - already has passed and could lead to consequences in the fall.

"Historically, you're looking at light to moderate yield losses when planting comes after that date," he said. "As you get closer to June, yield losses climb to 2 percent a day for each day you wait to get your crop in."

If delays continue, some farmers may opt to plant soybeans in fields originally slated for corn, as long as those fields haven't already been treated with nitrogen fertilizer. Soybeans make their own nitrogen and are traditionally planted later in the spring.

Delavan farmer Mike Hoeft has 700 acres of corn planted but still has 1,300 acres to go. Having spent $100 an acre on nitrogen fertilizer, Hoeft said he's committed to planting corn on his fields.

"The delays weigh on my mind, but I'm trying to be positive," he said.

But farmers aren't the only ones with weather wreaking havoc on operations.

Landscapers have been slowed down as well, though the moisture ultimately will work to their advantage in recharging subsoil moisture. Home builders, too, have been affected.

"Rains are slowing everybody down," said Jim Whalen of Grandview Co. in Chillicothe. "This rain is backing us up. We just have to put people off for a while."

Terry Ruhland, like many home builders in the Peoria area, is facing a double whammy: He has fewer projects because of the economy, and he can't get started with the ones he has because of the rain.

"I mean, with some builders one house could be one-third of the business they have at this moment, or maybe even a half. If you can't get half of your business off the ground because of the weather, or in this case in the ground, that hurts," said Ruhland, of Plum Creek Builders.

Another business affected by the rain are golf courses, particularly non-tax supported courses that budget a certain number of rounds per day at this time of year.

But two such courses - WeaverRidge in Peoria and Coyote Creek in Bartonville - aren't hurting much more this year than in previous rainy springs, employees said.

"Obviously we've had some days when it was just too wet to let any golfers out, but we're actually up this year from this time last year in the number of total rounds played and in the number of outings. We've had some really nice weekends," said Matt Weaver at WeaverRidge.

Randy Lox at Coyote Creek echoed those sentiments.

"This year hasn't been any worse than last year. We've been able to get in a lot more outings, even though we've had some days we couldn't open the course. But even today, with all the rain this morning, we have eight golfers out there right now," he said late Wednesday afternoon.

Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Paul Gordon can be reached at (309) 686-3288 or pgordon@pjstar.com. Matt Buedel contributed to this report.