R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Ag Econ Index, cattle numbers and more

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers will hold its 1/4 Scale Tractor competition in Peoria May 31-June 3. (Katie McDonald Photography)

This week’s roundup of news and views for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers begins in Omaha, Neb.  where Creighton University’s Rural Mainstreet Index slipped for a third straight month. Also newsworthy: Illinois soybean and corn planting progress has soared above average with favorable weather conditions throughout most of the state, and we have the latest Illinois cattle county estimates issued by USDA. Which counties lead the way? For these and other farm and rural headlines, please read on …

Ag Econ Index Continues Slide

OMAHA, Neb. — For the first time since 2015, the Creighton University Rural Mainstreet Index has recorded three consecutive months of overall indices above growth-neutral. The April index, which dipped slightly to 53.5 in April from 54.7 in March, surveys bank CEOs in rural areas of a 10-state region whose economies depend on agriculture. A score of 50 represents a “growth-neutral” state.

“Surveys over the past several months indicate that the Rural Mainstreet economy is trending upward with improving and positive economic growth,” observed Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton’s Heider College of Business. “However, weak farm income continues to weigh on the rural economy.” Illinois’ April index sank to 52.2 from 58.4 in March, after the farmland price index plunged from 47.3 in March to 43.5 in April, the Illinois Farm Bureau reported.

Soybean planting progress is threefold average

SPRINGFIELD — Continued warm weather and dry conditions allowed producers to make “excellent” progress on corn and soybean planting in Illinois the week ending May 13. This is according to the May 14 USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service “Illinois Crop Progress and Condition” report, which showed soybean planting progress of 66 percent complete, compared to 22 percent in 2017 and the five-year average of 24 percent. In addition, corn planted was 90 percent complete, compared to 74 percent last year and 70 percent for the five-year average.

Corn emerged was at 63 percent, while corn condition was rated 13 percent fair, 67 percent good and 20 percent excellent. Soybean condition is not yet rated by NASS. Winter wheat condition was rated 4 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 26 percent fair, 51 percent good and 12 percent excellent.

U of I Agro Day to boast new layout

URBANA — The 61st annual University of Illinois Agronomy Day will be held Aug. 16 at the U of I’s South First Street facility in Savoy, near Champaign-Urbana. As in previous years, Illinois producers are invited to hear directly from U of I faculty on the latest scientific discoveries affecting agriculture production, along with practical advice on water quality, insect management, crop production, weed control, corn and soybean genetics, plant diseases, farm economics, agricultural engineering, and more.

Those who have attended past U of I Agronomy Days will notice a new layout and look for the event in 2018. Tours will now be held in multiple tents surrounding a main exhibitor’s tent, with presenters grouped according to themes for which attendees can earn certified crop adviser  credits, explained Bob Dunker, an agronomist and chairperson for Agronomy Day.

“One of the tours was set up that way last year, and we got a lot of positive feedback. Start times will be staggered for each tent, allowing attendees time to move from one tour to another if desired. But it will mean a lot less walking for everyone, and more time to interact with research scientists and exhibitors,” Dunker stated in a U of I College of ACES news release.

For more information on the 2018 U of I Agronomy Day, contact Sue Overmyer at 217-300-3702 or email overmyer@illinois.edu.

Illinois Farm Fact:

Culver’s Restaurant raised $111,000 for ag education programs this month through their Scoops of the Day fundraiser program. (Illinois Farm Bureau)

USDA releases IL cattle numbers

SPRINGFIELD — The USDA-NASS Heartland Field Office released its annual Illinois Cattle County Estimates report on May 14, showing Stephenson County leading the way with 55,000 head in all cattle and calves. Not far behind was Jo Daviess County, with 54,000 head estimated, and Clinton County, with 50,000 head all cattle and calves.

The most beef cows located in an Illinois County was 17,900 head in Jo Daviess County, which bested Fulton County’s estimated 14,100 beef cattle. Leading the way in milk cows was Clinton County, at 13,600 head. This eclipsed second-place Stephenson County, which registered 12,300 milk cows as of Jan. 1, 2018.

In all, Illinois holds 1.15 million head of cattle and calves, including 397,000 beef cows and 93,000 milk cows, according to USDA-NASS.

Quarter-scale tractors coming to Peoria

PEORIA — Exposition Gardens, home to the Heart of Illinois Fair, will again play host for the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers’ International ¼-Scale Tractor Student Design Competition. The event, which will take place May 31-June 3 in the show barn, is unique among student engineering-design contests in that it provides a realistic 360-degree workplace, said Delores Landbeck of ASABE.

“Teams of students are given a 31 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine and a set of Titan tires, but the design of the tractor is up to them,” said Landbeck. “A panel of industry experts then judge each design for innovation, manufacturability, serviceability, safety, sound level and ergonomics. Teams also submit a written design report in advance of the competition, and they must ‘sell’ their design during a formal presentation to the industry experts.”

Finally, the machines are put to the test in three performance events, including tractor pulls, a maneuverability course and a durability course. Student teams are expected to attend from the University of Illinois, University of Nebraska and The Ohio State University, and many other colleges and universities.

–R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Ag Econ Index, cattle numbers and more–