By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Thirteen agricultural editors from the European Union (EU) learned about sustainable soybean production while visiting the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) office in Chicago Sept. 15.

The 2017 Illinois corn harvest is underway, though lagging behind historic averages. What are the reasons? Also this week, details on a University of Illinois report on harvest considerations for farmers looking to minimize last-minute yield losses, expert advice on manure pit safety and more news summaries for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers. Please read on …

Crop progress report: Corn harvest behind average

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois corn harvest is just 5 percent complete in Illinois, down 11 percent from the 2012-16 average, according to the Sept. 18 Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report issued by USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). The number represents a 6 percent decrease from 2016’s 8 percent harvested, but is 3 percent better than the 2 percent harvested by Sept. 10, 2017.

A big reason for the corn harvest drop-off, the report reveals, is the scrawny 39 percent of corn estimated as “mature,” compared with 60 percent maturity at the same time last year. Corn condition is currently rated 4 percent very poor, 9 percent poor, 35 percent fair, 44 percent good and 8 percent excellent, according to the report. Farmers can only wonder if the thin 44 percent rating for mature corn might be a harbinger of things to come once the harvest finals are tallied.

The corn harvest was underway in earnest in northwest Peoria County and western Bureau County as of Sept. 23, reported RFD News and Views reader Ted Stickel of Chillicothe. Stickel saw machines on the ground near Laura and Princeville that day, and said a friend with Farm Services told him combines were working fields near Sheffield, as well. Thanks Ted. Readers, tell your favorite Illinois farmer ‘best of luck with harvest and stay safe!’

Nafziger: Consider alternating between crop harvests

URBANA — While USDA projections for the Illinois corn harvest (189 bu./acre) and soybean yield (58 bu./acre) are respectable following the weather challenges of the 2017 growing season, adjustments can be made to maximize harvest yields and profits, says University of Illinois agronomist Emerson Nafziger. “Harvest is getting underway at about the same time for both corn and soybean this year, but there might need to be frequent switching between the two crops as harvest progresses in order to maximize quality and minimize losses,” Nafziger noted in a recent post on the U of I College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) “Bulletin” website.

With high temperatures gripping Illinois as autumn unfolds, seeds and pods of maturing soybeans will dry within hours, as opposed to days, Nafziger cautions farmers.

“We need to be alert and ready to harvest as soon as plants can be cut and seed moisture drops to 13 percent,” he said. “If moisture drops to 10 percent or less during harvest, it might be worth stopping until pods and seeds take on some more moisture in the evening or overnight.”

As for corn, Nafziger noted on Sept. 20 that many fields are looking better than expected, though early harvest yields — mostly reported from southern Illinois — have been variable. Most of central and northern Illinois are around 150 growing days behind normal since May 1, he said, with cooler-than-average weather in August slowing grain filling rates and delaying maturity. But now that it is unseasonably warm in Illinois, “high temperatures mean rapid grain moisture loss. We’ve seen corn grain lose moisture as much as 1 percentage point per day under high temperatures, especially if it’s breezy,” Nafziger stated.

The crop expert also explained how test weight can affect the price farmers fetch for corn grain, saying that test weight must register 56 lbs./bushel to be sold as U.S. No. 2 corn. For more on this topic, see Nafziger’s post in The Bulletin (bulletin.ipm.illinois.edu).

Slot-floor pit system safety concerns addressed

SPRINGFIELD — Farm safety expert Ted Funk addressed safety concerns associated with slotted-floor liquid manure pit systems for beef that “have become more prominent in the last couple of years” in an essay published by the Illinois Beef Association (www.illinoisbeef.com). In the essay, Funk noted that fatal accidents which have recently occurred in Corn Belt States can likely be attributed to multiple factors, including increases in toxic gases produced by a move to more sulfur-rich animal diets through distillers grains. And with the construction of more and larger slotted-floor finishing buildings in the region, Funk points out, comes a new generation of operators unfamiliar with liquid manure safety procedures.

Funk’s essay is composed for producers with liquid manure systems who have employees and/or children in proximity of manure handling. The farm safety expert offers seven safety bullet points for keeping children and workers out of harm’s way, and advises producers to purchase a hydrogen sulfide (H2S) single gas monitor for anyone who must be near a barn when manure pits are being pumped.

Also advised: keeping manure sample kits at hand, observing biosecurity protocols, keeping good records, checking spreader calibration during manure applications, spreading carcass compost and acquiring a depth measurement instrument for manure storage. For more info, check out the U of I website www.manurecentral.illinois.edu or contact Ted Funk at funkt7@gmail.com.

Soybean growers host foreign journalists

CHICAGO — Agricultural media is counted on to tell the true story of farming, including the many sustainable practices undertaken by farmers to preserve the soil, water and other natural resources enjoyed by all. The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) recently shared the organization’s sustainable agricultural approaches with 13 agricultural news editors from the European Union at ISA’s new Chicago office. ISA leaders hoped the journalists would take the positive message of how Illinois farmers get soybeans to customers in the most sustainable possible ways back with them to their respective readers — and potential buyers — in the EU.

“Hosting delegations such as this one is another way for ISA to continue to position Illinois as the world’s preferred soybean source,” said Craig Rataczyk, ISA chief executive officer, following the September 15 event. “We in Illinois are proud of our record of agricultural sustainability.” (ISA news)

Illinois Farm Fact:

There are currently more than 2,000 farms producing 5.1 million total hogs in Illinois. (Ill. Pork Producers Association)