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Indications show another corny growing season ahead in county

Ron Bychowski, maintenance supervisor for Gould Farms in Maple Park, takes apart a section of a planter to be cleaned and repainted in preparation for the spring season.
Ron Bychowski, maintenance supervisor for Gould Farms in Maple Park, takes apart a section of a planter to be cleaned and repainted in preparation for the spring season.

With the memories of summer’s heat and dryness fresh, Jeff Eggleston has heard local farmers talk about growing less corn in 2013.

Their money is saying something different, said Eggleston, general manager at Maple Park-based Hintzsche Fertilizer.

“There’s talk, sure,” Eggleston said. “But we’re seeing orders for seed and nitrogen fertilizer as strong as ever.

“So, if I had to bet, I’d place my bets that we may actually see a slight bump in corn acres.”

Last summer, a historic drought dominated the growing and harvest season.

By fall, almost three-quarters of Illinois had slipped into “extreme drought,” which is one category less than the worst drought condition classification used by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The drought also damaged Illinois’ 2012 corn crop.

Estimates of Kane County’s 2012 corn crop have yet to be published by the U.S. Agriculture Department.

But statewide, Illinois farmers produced about 1.29 billion bushels of corn in 2012, a decrease of about a third from the 1.95 billion bushels of corn produced in 2011.

The yield also was down by a third. In 2010 and 2011, the statewide corn yield checked in at 157 bushels per acre. In 2012, the yield stood at 105 bushels per acre, making 2012 the worst year for corn production in Illinois since the drought of 1988.

Kane County farmers and grain distributors have said local production fared slightly better in 2012, with yields of about 120 to 130 bushels per acre.

But that was down from the 160 to 170 bushels per acre the county has recorded in the past.

Joe White, who farms near Elburn and serves as the president of the Kane County Farm Bureau, said after years of increasing corn production, the 2012 drought made local growers think about their crop rotation.

Many farmers rotate fields between corn and soybeans or other crops.

White, for instance, operates his fields on an annual rotated mix of about 60 percent corn and 40 percent for soybeans.

But in recent years, a growing number of farmers in pursuit of greater profits from historically high corn prices have altered their crop rotation schedule, opting to plant “corn on corn” on fields – meaning rather than planting soybeans in their cornfields to recharge the soil, they apply nitrogen fertilizer to nourish the soil for corn in consecutive years.

Last year, White said some local growers observed that “corn-on-corn” fields generated less corn than fields that had been rotated with soybeans the year before.

“It could have been as much as 30 to 40 bushels per acre less,” White said. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

And because soybeans generally are more drought-resistant than corn, planting more soybeans may prove enticing to growers, White said.

Overall, White and Chris Gould, who farms near Maple Park, said they believe local farmers will not allow last year’s results to dictate this year’s planting plans.

Gould said he has set aside “a couple hundred acres” that could be “flexed” into soybean production, depending on how the prices of corn and soybeans move in coming weeks.

“But that’s as crazy as I get with this,” Gould said with a laugh. “But at this point, the economy still favors corn.”

And thanks to winter rains and late winter snows, the region’s drought problems have lessened, making corn a better bet for local farmers.

The U.S. Drought Monitor considers about 63 percent of Illinois to be drought-free. The worst dryness is in a region in north and western Illinois, including Kane County, which is considered to be in “moderate drought,” two classifications less than extreme drought.

That section of Illinois in moderate drought accounts for about 16 percent of the state’s geography.

“We still need more rain in the spring, but we’re not talking about huge [rainfall] deficits,” Gould said.

White agreed.

“Things are actually shaping up pretty good,” he said.

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