By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

A spate of 60- and 70-degree days set new February temperature records across Illinois, following a milder than normal January. As a result, a batch of crocus on the south side of the building that houses the Illinois State Water Survey in Urbana recently bloomed. (Photo by Jim Angel)

February’s stunning run of 60- and 70-degree days had many of us thinking about spring, but Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel was thinking only about how agriculture will be affected — does anyone remember 2007? On the topic of freakishly warm weather, University of Illinois researchers have begun to map out the future of soybean production in Illinois in an era of global climate change. Could Illinois have a shorter growing season? For these and other news highlights for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers, please read on …

Warm spell a harbinger of crop failures?

URBANA — A spate of 60- and 70-degree days set new February temperature records across Illinois, following a milder than normal January. As a result, a batch of crocus on the south side of the building that houses the Illinois State Water Survey in Urbana recently bloomed, prompting Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel to ponder the effects of the false spring on plants and crops.

“In the past, such warm weather has made any early vegetation vulnerable to the inevitable freeze later on,” Angel noted in his Feb. 24 weather blog. “In 2007 and 2012, a similar scenario played out with damage to corn, winter wheat, alfalfa, and fruit crops across Illinois.”

Angel referred to an unusually warm March of 2007 followed by an extended, early April hard freeze that killed many varieties of plants. Ten years later, 257 daily high temperature records were set across Illinois in February, with the warmest temperature of 79 degrees recorded on Feb. 21, 2017 in Perry, near Quincy.

Impacts of the 2007 freeze led to the designation of 55 Illinois counties as disaster areas, with winter wheat and peaches leading the list of hardest-hit crops. Winter wheat damage cost Illinois producers an estimated $105 million in additional revenue that year, according to Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist.

U of I researchers model future of soybeans

URBANA — While our nation’s commander-in-chief and EPA Director derides global climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” researchers at the University of Illinois are moving ahead with a study on how rising temperatures will affect soybean growth in the Midwest. The project, funded through a $420,000 USDA grant under former President Obama, is utilizing real crop data and computer modeling to better project future impacts of higher temperatures on soybean production and seeking promising targets for adaption.

“Higher temperatures in the future may result in accelerated crop growth rate and shorter growing seasons,” said Kaiyu Guan, U of I environmental scientist and project director. “There will likely be direct heat stress effects on the various stages in plant reproduction, including the number of flowers and pods produced and aborted, and the higher temps may increase the plants’ demand for water. All of these factors will play a role in soybean crop yield.”

Research will eventually project crop yield for the entire Corn Belt under warmer climate scenarios, Guan added, through physiological and biochemical measurements of soybean varieties representative of the Midwest grown with infrared heating arrays. This will eventually aid seed breeders and scientists to produce the next generation of heat stress-tolerant soybean varieties suited for shorter growing seasons. (U of I news)

Illinois Farm Fact:

Illinois farmers harvested 1.5 million bushels of sorghum in 2016, or 93 bu./acre. (USDA/NASS)

County yield estimates released

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois growers have known they produced the nation’s largest 2016 soybean harvest of 592.9 million bushels since Jan. 12, when USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released yearly production data. Last week NASS issued county soybean estimates for soybeans, showing McLean County in central Illinois retaining its crown as most prolific in the state with estimated production of 18.9 million bushels. Second in production was Iroquois County in eastern Illinois, where producers harvested 17.2 million bushels. But it was in the east-southeast crop region that farmers grew the most soybeans, with a combined production of 97.8 million bushels from more than a dozen counties.

Illinois corn growers harvested a near-record 2.3 billion bushels in 2016, paced by McLean County’s yield of 70.4 million bushels. Central Illinois, which also includes DeWitt, Logan, Macon, Marshall, Mason, Menard, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford Counties, finished second in total corn production with 344.7 million bushels to northwest Illinois, where growers produced 407.8 bushels within its 12 counties. Livingston County, in eastern Illinois, produced the second most corn in the state with 63.4 million bushels, edging out Shelby County’s 63.3 million-bushel harvest.

Pork delegates head for Atlanta

SPRINGFIELD — Newly elected Illinois Pork Producers Association (IPPA) President Jason Propst of Cumberland County is leading a delegation of six pig farmers– including Curt Zehr, Pam Janssen, David Dedert, Bob Frase and Mike Haag– to the National Pork Industry Forum this week in Atlanta. Propst and the other farmer-leaders, who were elected as delegates to the event by their peers, will bring issues central to Illinois pork producers to the attention of officials with the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council during their annual business meeting.

“This annual forum gives delegates from across the country the opportunity to gather and discuss pertinent issues facing pork production,” Propst said in an IPPA news release. “We then work collectively to provide direction on those issues as well as vote on resolutions and advisements that impact our industry.”

The focus of the Forum is on current overall record-breaking pork production and how pork producers can work together to meet the challenges and opportunities of a growing industry. The delegates will have an opportunity to attend a market update on pork demand in the U.S. and abroad hosted by Will Sawyer, executive director and senior animal protein analyst from Rabobank. More information on the Forum, which runs March 1-3, can be accessed at www.porkindustryforum.com.