By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Heavy rains ground planting progress to a halt across Illinois last week, with many farmers reporting flood losses including recently-planted seed. Here, a Mackinaw River Valley (Tazewell County) farmer sets seed using a four-row planter in April, before heavy rains inundated the area. (Tim Alexander photo)

The meteorological events of the past few weeks have served as a reminder that while political shiftings and legislation affecting agriculture comes and goes with election cycles, the local weather will always remain the single most important topic on the agenda of farmers in the springtime. We have a roundup of the spring deluge of ’17 and its effects on farmers. We also have news of June Dairy Month events in the state of Illinois. Please read on …

Heavy rains flood Midwest farm fields

URBANA — Heavy rains swept throughout much of Illinois in early May, producing precipitation of 10-13 inches in areas of far southern Illinois, the office of the Illinois State Meteorologist reported. Rainfall amounts varied widely from southern to northwestern Illinois, where areas received between 0.5 and 2 inches. Across central Illinois, between 2 and 5 inches was received.

Historic flooding with rain totals up to 13 inches was recorded across the Midwest, with five deaths and extensive flood damage occurring in Missouri. Also in Missouri, river traffic on a 14.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi River was closed due to heavy flooding. Two levees gave way in rural eastern Missouri and northeast Arkansas, extending the floodwaters and causing additional damage, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported May 4.

“The people of the American agriculture community are made of hardy stock and can withstand their fair share of hardship, but just the same, they should know that their USDA stands with them during this natural calamity,” said new USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, while announcing that representatives from USDA Farm Service Agency, USDA Office of Rural Development and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will be “on the ground” gathering information and assisting members of the agriculture community affected by flooding.

“We have seen levee breaks and flooding in the wake of storms, some of which have caused the loss of life, and USDA is ready to assist in any way we can. We have USDA employees in every county in this nation, and our people will be visible as they work to support people battling the flooding,” Perdue said in a USDA press release.

Wet conditions freeze planting progress

SPRINGFIELD — Persistent rainfalls, accompanied in some cases by flooding and loss of planted seed or emerged plants, brought planting progress to a halt across much of Illinois. The deluge came following a week of great weather that allowed farmers to improve corn planting progress to 63 percent completed on April 30, compared to just 34 percent completed the week before. That pace kept farmers even with corn planting progress in 2016, and was 16 percent better than the five-year average of 47 percent. Soybeans planted had improved to 13 percent planted, up 9 percent from the previous week and 7 percent above the five-year average.

Corn emerged was at 20 percent, compared to just five percent the previous week, while soybeans were not yet recognized as emerged. Though many farmers are reporting that they will have to replant some of their corn and soybeans, there was a silver lining to the weather cloud reported by Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center: changes in drought conditions over the past 12 months show that, for the first time in at least a year, no Illinois counties are in drought condition. This was supported by the May 1 USDA-NASS Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report, which showed no regions averaging more than 2 percent “short” topsoil moisture and 5 percent “short” subsoil moisture levels. No regions in Illinois reported moisture levels as “very short.” 

Report: cover crop fields hold during heavy rains

BRIMFIELD — A Peoria County farmer and cover crop specialist told R.F.D. News & Views that despite being pounded with seven inches of rain at the end of April that destroyed several crop fields in Peoria, Stark and Marshall counties, fields utilizing cover crops seem to have held topsoil better than non-covered fields. Brian Wieland, a certified crop advisor from Brimfield, said a drive-around revealed washed out fields with stalks and silt washed off fields and into gullies, with ponding evident on many fields.

“Not a pretty sight. Unfortunately this rain couldn’t have come at a worse time (following) a couple nice days of prime planting conditions,” said Wieland. “One thing that was evident was fields with cover crops held much better than fields that were worked down with no cover crops. A neighbor who does not farm, but lives across from a field of cover crops, mentioned how clear the water was coming off the field of cover crops compared to the fields worked down with no covers.”

Wieland, who represents Saddle Butte Ag-Bio Till, can be reached for advice on cover crops through www.saddlebutte.com.

June Dairy Month events in Illinois

ST. PAUL, Minn. — June Dairy Month events kick off Thursday, June 1 with World Milk Day, initiated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to mark the importance of milk to a healthy and balanced diet, as well as the dairy industry’s global contributions to economic development and agriculture. Dairy’s commitment to sustainability and protecting the environment is also spotlighted through events held by people, companies and communities throughout the month of June.

“June is a time when we can show our appreciation for the 7,400 dairy farm families in the Midwest,” said Midwest Dairy Association CEO, Lucas Lentsch, in a news release. “Dairy farmers demonstrate the highest commitment to producing nutritious milk while protecting the land on which they live and work, as well as fund research that leads to dairy product innovation.”

June Dairy Month events in Illinois are scheduled for Saturday, June 10 (2017 Dairy Breakfast, Wagner Farm, Glenview) and June 17 (20th Annual June Dairy Breakfast, Family Af-Ayr Farm, Caledonia). Visit www.MidwestDairy.com for more additional information.

Illinois Farm Fact:

Worldwide, one billion people derive their livelihoods from the dairy industry. (Midwest Dairy Association)