By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue (center) ceremonially cuts into a Nebraska prime rib in Beijing, marking the return of U.S. beef to the Chinese market. Perdue is joined by Craig Uden (left), president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and Luan Richeng (right), of state-owned Chinese importer COFCO.

While Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue celebrated the arrival of U.S. beef in China after a 14-year embargo, the building of new livestock barns in Illinois continued at a fevered pace. Other farm and rural news of interest this week includes a harvest of new crop reports from USDA — we will provide a summary. Also, a closer look at how crops are faring heading into July in one central Illinois county. For more, please read on …

Perdue celebrates U.S. beef in China

BEIJING — When U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue traveled to China to slice a beef prime rib in a June 30 Beijing ceremony, it marked the official end of the more than 13-year embargo the Communist nation had placed on U.S. beef imports. The prime rib, which originated in Nebraska, was symbolic of the U.S.-China 100-Day Action Plan announced by the administration of President Donald Trump in May.

“This is also a good harbinger of the kind of relationship that can be developed,” said Perdue, in an official USDA news release. “We hope there are other things we can cooperate on and we’re going to use U.S. beef as the forerunner.”

The USDA announced in June that American companies could begin shipping beef exports to China, with the first shipment of beef from Omaha, Neb. arriving June 19. China has become a major importer of beef in the years following the country’s 2003 ban on U.S. beef products, importing $2.5 billion in beef during 2016. Prior to the ban, the U.S. was the top exporter of beef to China, providing 70 percent of all Chinese beef imports.

While only a handful of processors in Nebraska and Kansas has been approved for shipments, many farmers all over the Midwest are expanding their operations to accommodate more livestock, including beef cattle, or establishing their first barns. In Illinois, livestock expansion is helping many young farmers stay on their multi-generation family farms by providing a solid secondary farm income.

Such is the case with Ashton and Merlin Gronewold of Carthage in Hancock County, who will celebrate the opening of their deep-pack cow-calf monoslope barn on July 7, with a public open house and ribbon cutting event. “This is another great example of how livestock is helping a young farmer expand their family farm,” said Tim Maiers of Maiers Ag Consulting, working for the Illinois Livestock Development Group. “The Gronewolds’ new barn is an example of a growing trend in the beef industry to move cows inside barns for housing during and after calving.”

Acreage, stocks, prices, hogs, pigs topics of reports

SPRINGFIELD — A busy week of reports from the Heartland Office of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) was led by the Illinois June Acreage Report, which showed corn planted area down four percent from last year and soybean planted acreage up 3 percent over 2016. Released June 30, the report estimated corn planted area at 11.10 million acres, with harvested area for grain at 10.95 million acres, also down four percent from last year. Soybean planted area was pegged at 10.40 million acres, with harvested area forecast at 10.34 million acres, which is up 3 percent from 2016.

The Illinois Grain Stocks report, also issued June 30, shows corn stocks in all positions — meaning on-farm, grain elevators and other facilities — totaling 882 million bushels, up 30 percent from this June of 2016. Soybean stocks totaled 165 million bushels, up 18 percent.

The Illinois Agricultural Prices report, issued June 29, showed the May Prices Received Index at 98.7, an increase of 2.1 percent over April’s price for all ag commodities. But at 88.1, the Crop Production Index decreased 5.4 percent. The Livestock Production Index, however, increased 7.2 percent over April to 106.7.

Illinois inventory of all hogs and pigs as of June 1 was 5.35 million head, up 2 percent from March, according to the USDA Illinois Hogs and Pigs report of June 29. The total is up 3 percent from June of 2016. The March-May pig crop, at 2.80 million head, was up 5 percent from 2016.

Finally, the June 26 Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report rated Illinois corn condition at 2 percent very poor, 7 percent poor, 29 percent fair, 51 percent good and 11 percent excellent. Soybean condition was rated 2 percent very poor, 6 percent poor, 22 percent fair, 59 percent good and 11 percent excellent.

Illinois Farm Fact:

The soybean value chain and associated industries in Illinois contribute $12.7 billion in gross state product (Illinois Soybean Association)

Godke: Tazewell crops spotty, but good overall

PEKIN — USDA-NASS ratings for corn (just 51 percent good) and soybeans (59 percent good) have some analysts speculating as to the overall health of the state’s crops in 2017. In one central Illinois “bellwether” county for crop health, the county farm bureau manager told R.F.D. News the crops, overall, are looking just fine, thank you.

“Despite the unusual weather this spring and summer, the crops in Tazewell County look exceptionally well,” said Doug Godke, Tazewell County Farm Bureau manager. “It is too early to predict any yields but the corn and soybeans look similar to last year at the same time.”

Godke said the crops there have overcome early season obstacles that pushed some corn planting back to mid-May. Several farmers in the northern portion of the county were forced to re-plant early seeded corn due to heavy rain showers that produced washouts. And though soybean development was initially slow, warmer weather and lighter showers have made a difference with the soybean crop now growing rapidly, according to Godke.

“In traveling around the state of Illinois is appears that our crops are as good if not better than what I have seen across most of the state,” he said. “We are now entering the critical time of (corn) tasseling. It will be important for us to have warm but moderate temperatures at that time. A few light showers would help is we do not get major downpours or high winds.”