R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Drought creeping across Illinois

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Producers and analysts are becoming concerned about prolonged early season drought conditions across much of Illinois.

In this week’s column we examine the effects of current drought conditions across Illinois on crop development, prices and more. We’ll also take a peek at the current USDA crop and livestock indexes. Please read on …


Drought creeping across Illinois

URBANA — Despite spotty rainfall events, drought conditions continued to intensify in many parts of Illinois as of Friday, June 2. This is according to Illinois State Meteorologist Trent Ford, who said the U.S. Drought Monitor now shows the Chicagoland area, much of central Illinois, and areas along the Missouri border from Quincy to St. Louis to be in a moderate drought. In addition, the northern two-thirds of the state is characterized as abnormally dry.

How this will affect the 2023 growing season for farmers remains to be seen. Reports have indicated some visible stress in soybeans in central Illinois and emergence issues in corn in western Illinois, according to Ford.

“Forecasts for the next seven days show continued drier weather with only a few chances of rainfall, and near to above normal temperatures,” Ford said. “Without significant rain in the next week, conditions will likely worsen, and more drought impacts may occur.”

The state climatologist noted that the combination of above-normal temperatures and dry conditions have caused quick soil moisture declines in some areas. As of May 30, Illinois’ topsoil moisture supply was rated 14 percent very short and 28 percent short, while subsoil moisture was estimated at 6 percent very short and 31 percent short, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).


Analysts ponder drought implications

SPRINGFIELD — USDA is predicting a record U.S. corn harvest in 2023, with farmers projected to bring in more than 181 bushels per acre. At least one analyst said last week that if current drought conditions in the Midwest persist into late June, yield estimates could be revised downward and corn may be in for a price rally.

According to AgWeb.com market analyst Jerry Gulke, if the national average corn yield falls below trendline to 179 bu. per acre it will have a “bullish” impact on the market. If a prolonged dry period moves yield down to 176 bu. per acre, there could be “some real fireworks” and prices for corn could move above $5.50 for December.

“Of course, the high on December corn was more than $6 from October 2022 through February 2023. Those are marks on the chart that were made under different fundamental situations. And now we have to assert what is $6 corn compared to two months ago before we knew all this,” Gulke said.

USDA Meteorologist Brad Rippey, who helps author the drought monitor, said there is deepening drought not only in Illinois, but especially the western Corn Belt. “The drier areas west of the Mississippi include Nebraska and western Iowa; those areas have been dry much longer,” Rippey said. “You see a dry signal in those areas going back up to a year or more.”

East of the Mississippi, farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, are seeing a short-term dry signal, according to Rippey.

“We still have plenty of subsoil moisture. If we get the crops emerged and established, those roots should be able to reach down into that subsoil moisture. But for the time being, it’s extremely dry on the surface. Just a few weeks of dryness has depleted that upper level of soil moisture, which makes it tough to get the crop evenly emerged and established,” he said. “If we can just get a little bit of rain in the next few weeks that should help the crops, and then get the crops into that deeper soil moisture.”


Unseasonable heat spawns insect outbreak

BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Farm Bureau reported last week that the unseasonable heat wave that has gripped most of Illinois over the past couple of weeks has spawned an early outbreak of common crop pests in many parts of the state. Armyworms and black cutworms have invaded wheat and corn fields in portions of southern Illinois, and farmers are being advised to be on the lookout for the arrival of Japanese beetles and corn rootworms.

“Insect development is generally temperature dependent, so the warmer weather really does indicate faster development for insects,” Kelly Estes, University of Illinois entomologist and state coordinator of the Cooperative Agriculture Pest Survey program, told the IFB’s FarmWeek.com.

“Rootworm hatch is underway. Surveys last summer in corn and soybeans overall showed rootworm populations were low. But we do have the potential for some (outbreaks). We had a very mild winter and so far, a pretty favorable spring. For areas that had rootworms (last year), I think they could be there (in coming weeks).”

Portions of central and northwest Illinois are most prone to corn rootworm outbreaks, according to Estes.


Egg, pork prices recede; production costs rise

SPRINGFIELD — Prices consumers pay at the supermarket for eggs and pork are receding compared to one year ago, though producers’ production costs are not. This is reflected within USDA’s May 31 Illinois Agricultural Prices report, which shows the April Prices Received Index 2011 Base (Agricultural Production), at 130.8, increased 1.9 percent from March, but decreased 2.2 percent from April 2022. At 125.6, the Crop Production Index was up 5.8 percent from last month and 2.4 percent from a year ago. The Livestock Production Index, at 135.8, decreased 1.8 percent from March, and 6.2 percent from April 2022.

Specifically, farmers received higher prices during April for lettuce, broilers, cattle, and broccoli, but lower prices for market eggs, hogs, milk, and apples. Notably, USDA’s Dairy Prices Received Index fell from 134.3 in April 2022 to 103 in April of 2023, while poultry and eggs fell from 215.7 to 178.2 during the year.

Farmers’ Prices Paid Index showed April costs, while falling slightly from March, are still greater than 2022 costs (137.6 in April 2022 compared to 139.7 a year later). Prices Paid includes costs for production, taxes, wage rates, family living and more. (USDA/NASS)


Illinois Farm Fact:

Illinoisans can report their local drought conditions and effects through the National Drought Mitigation Center’s Condition Monitoring Observer Report (CMOR) system or by email to the State Climatologist Office, statecli@isws.illinois.edu. (Illinois State Water Survey)