Phil Farrell has just started to see the amber waves come rolling into his grain storage facilities.
But so far, Farrell, grain division manager at agricultural services company Elburn Cooperative, said he likes what he is seeing and hearing from local farmers.
“They’re early returns, but in general, they’ve been good,” Farrell said. “Based on what we’ve seen, this could be a really good year from a production standpoint.”
Throughout western Kane County and elsewhere in more rural areas of northern Illinois, harvester combines began rolling through farm fields in mid-September, as farmers began the task of bringing in the millions of bushels of corn and soybeans they had planted about four to five months ago.
Most farmers have begun by raking in their soybean crops.
Chris Gould, who with his family farms acreage in both Kane and DeKalb counties near Maple Park, said he began rolling through his fields about two weeks ago.
On Monday, Gould said he has completed about 70 percent of his soybean harvest and about 20 percent of his corn.
“We’re getting a good start on it,” he said.
But even better, he and Farrell said the corn and soybeans that have been brought in from the fields so far appear to be of a fairly high quality and in fairly high abundance.
Gould said his soybeans have been “average to well above average,” while his corn has been “slightly above average to well above average.”
The yields he said have been better than those recorded in most years, and significantly better than the lackluster harvests brought in amid last year’s drought.
“It’s a nice change of pace,” Gould said.
His observations square with those seen elsewhere in the region and the state.
Farrell said harvests so far this year have been “above expectations.”
He said local corn yields have ranged from about 160 bushels per acre to more than 200 bushels per acre, while soybean fields have yielded more than 60 bushels per acre.
Last year, growers in Kane County brought in 120 to 150 bushels of corn per acre, and about 45 bushels per acre of soybeans. If those trends hold, they would represent increases in yield of 33 percent to 50 percent versus 2012.
John Hawkins, spokesman for the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau, said those estimates also compare favorably to what has been seen statewide.
Amid the late summer dry spell, Hawkins said many farmers were “ratcheting down expectations.”
“But that turned out to be, pleasantly, not the case at all,” Hawkins said. “It’s a very good crop.”
Statewide harvest progress estimates are hard to come by, as the U.S. Agriculture Department has refused to release new reports on crops while funding from the federal government remains in question amid the stalemate over the shutdown of the federal government.
However, Hawkins “guesstimated” that the harvest in the state is about 20 percent complete, based on past harvests and the observations he has made himself and heard from others.
In its last crop progress report issued Sept. 30, the USDA estimated about 13 percent of corn and about 10 percent of soybeans had been harvested in Illinois as of Sept. 29.
Normally, by that date, 34 percent of corn and 15 percent of soybeans had been collected statewide, the USDA data showed.
Last year, 69 percent of corn and 20 percent of soybeans had been harvested by Sept. 29, the USDA said.
The main challenge facing farmers appears to be the water content remaining in their corn kernels because the corn in the fields has not yet dried down to the moisture levels sought by grain distributors.
So farmers are harvesting their soybeans first to give the corn in the fields more time to dry naturally, reducing the need to pay to dry the corn using mechanical dryers while it is in storage later.
Because of the potentially huge corn harvest, prices for corn have slipped in recent weeks down to levels not seen since 2009. This week, corn for March 2014 delivery had fallen to around $4.50-$4.75 a bushel. At this time last year, March 2014 corn was trading for $6.60 a bushel.
Soybeans have proven more resilient, holding around $13 a bushel.
“I guess there’s not enough soybeans to go around in the world,” Gould said. “But there’s more than enough corn.”
Farrell and Gould said they expect the local harvest to continue through October and the first 2 to 3 weeks of November, as farmers wait for their corn to dry and dodge raindrops.
“Historically, we’re usually wrapped up by around Thanksgiving,” Farrell said. “So, if we’re done before then, we’re ahead of the game.”
By the numbers
Local farmers have just begun harvesting their fields of corn and soybeans. But what they are liking what they are seeing so far.
Estimated corn yield
2012: 120-150 bushels per acre
2013: 160-200 bushels per acre
Estimated soybean yield
2012: 45-47 bushels per acre
2013: 50-60 bushels per acre
Source: Elburn Cooperative Company; Kane County farmers