As he rolls his harvester through his fields, Joe White normally would prefer the rain to stay away for a few weeks.
Fall rains, after all, can mean muddy fields that bog down combines, prevent plants from drying out and slow the annual corn and soybean harvest for farmers such as White, of Elburn.
This year, after a summer of little moisture and dry plants, White’s position on early fall precipitation has shifted.
“We still need anything we can get,” White said. “So, if it rains while we’re trying to harvest, well, we need to replenish that soil moisture heading into next year. And every bit we get now will help.”
In the past couple of weeks, farmers in Kane County have rolled into their corn and soybean fields, beginning the harvest.
At the beginning of this week, about 7 percent of corn and 2 percent of soybeans in the northeastern corner of Illinois were harvested, according to a report issued Monday by the U.S. Agriculture Department.
But those numbers should increase quickly in the coming days, as farmers in the region start their combines and take down stands of grain.
“A normal year, we’d be hoping to have the harvest done by Thanksgiving,” said Chris Gould, who farms with his family around Maple Park. “But this year, with some reasonable weather, I’d say we should be mostly done by Halloween.”
While farmers may be pleased by field conditions, they said the results their fields are producing helped their moods.
“It’s not pretty out there,” Gould said. “But it could be a lot worse, too.”
Throughout the summer, farmers received reports of crops failing in the Midwest because hot midsummer temperatures and a lack of rainfall produced a severe drought that imperiled millions of acres of corn and soybeans that form much of the bedrock of American agriculture.
The USDA reported Monday 75 percent of Illinois’ corn rated poor to very poor, while 7 percent of the state’s crop labeled as “good.”
None of Illinois’ corn crop was in excellent condition.
Local corn growers and grain sellers said early results lead them to believe Kane County may have escaped the worst effects of the drought.
Phil Farrell, a grain merchandiser with Sycamore-based agricultural services company Elburn Cooperative, noted harvest results lead his company to believe Kane County corn fields could yield about 130 to 140 bushels of corn an acre.
From 2006 to 2011, Kane County’s fields produced about 170 to 185 bushes an acre, according to information published by the USDA.
While the drought-plagued summer took a chunk out of this year’s production, Farrell said the corn harvest results have not indicated a disaster.
2012’s harvest could be reminiscent of 2005, another fairly dry year in which local corn production slipped to 121 bushels an acre.
“We’re a bit optimistic, actually,” Farrell said. “Maybe this won’t be the disaster so many people thought was happening.”
While local corn harvest results may have escaped any nightmare scenarios, those involved in agriculture said the local soybean harvest might be strong.
Gould and White said their early returns have shown sharply varying yields from field to field. But generally, they said they expect soybean fields to produce about 40 to 50 bushels an acre.
That would place the soybean harvest well within normal range. From 2005 to 2011, Kane County logged soybean yields of about 40 to 57 bushels an acre, according to USDA statistics.
“The August rains we got really helped the soybean crop, maybe even more than we thought it would,” Farrell said.
The farmers said the effect harvest results may have on the price of the corn and soybeans – which in turn affects the price of foods consumed by the U.S. and around the world – has not been determined.
Corn for December delivery was selling Friday about $7.45 a bushel, down from $7.54 in mid-August, according to the CME Group. Soybeans for November delivery were selling about $16.12 a bushel, down from $16.39 in August, the CME Group reported.
White said it doesn’t surprise him crop reports might turn out better than anticipated.
“Farmers are always doom-and-gloom,” White said. “They always anticipate the worst. But the bottom line is this: There will be plenty to go around and satisfy everyone’s needs.”