Farmers use rare dry day to tend to soggy crops

Steve Tarter

Following last week's heavy rains, central Illinois farmers took advantage of dry weather Monday to get into their fields to harvest this year's crop of corn and soybeans.

Continued delays have made this one of the slowest and latest harvests in state history.

To date, only 19 percent of the Illinois corn crop has been harvested, according to Monday's crop report from the Illinois Department of Agriculture. That's the slowest since 1967 when only 10 percent of the harvest was complete on Nov. 1.

The soybean harvest is 35 percent complete, according to the report, making it the slowest since 1941 when 21 percent was harvested at this time.

While some area farmers still are waiting for fields to dry out, others were able to get started Monday.

Mike Schachtrup, who farms about 6,000 acres in Peoria, Tazewell, Knox and Warren counties with his brothers, was on his combine Monday at one of the family fields in western Warren County. "We're only about 9 percent finished. We need 50 days and we aren't going to get them," he said.

"Progress is very slow," said Schachtrup, noting that Illinois isn't the only state facing an arduous harvest. "A John Deere dealer told us that, from central Nebraska to Pennsylvania, everyone is fighting the same problem: Wet corn," he said.

Fighting that problem will mean delays at county grain elevators, said Kim Craig, the merchandiser for Bell Enterprises in Deer Creek. "The moisture level of this corn is high, with an average around 30 percent. Drying this corn is not going to be a fast process," he said.

Corn must be dried down to a 15 percent moisture level to be stored. "Farmers can harvest corn faster than we can dry it," Craig said.

Jeff Brooks at Grainland Co-op in El Paso said the wet corn provides elevators with another problem. "We can't take too much and let it sit, or problems develop even when we're blowing air on it," he said.

"We're usually open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. but we may have to close early if we get too much wet corn at one time," Brooks said.

Farmers will face delays along with higher costs for all that drying time, said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau.

Despite the concerns over wet corn, good yields may still result, said Keith Worner, director of the Tazewell County Extension office in Pekin who was working "soft and muddy ground" north of Green Valley on Monday.

"The yields are still there. It's just a matter of soft fields," he said.

"This is the week we've been waiting for," said Worner of a forecast that calls for an extended period of dry weather. "It won't be unusual for some farmers to work all night in shifts," he said.

Even working around the clock won't prevent this year's harvest from extending well past Thanksgiving, Kirchhofer said. "We paid our dues in October. Hopefully, we'll have good weather in November," he said.

Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or