Outstanding In Their Field

Outstanding in their field Stng Head-WEB

And just like that, summer is here, and almost everyone’s yard/grass is becoming parched and possibly brown, unless they have been watering it. Now for a recap on the spring of 2024 so far:

The rural landscape changes quickly this time of year. The planting process is crucial for success later in the year. Research has proven there is a preferred time that will usually produce the best yields. If only it was that easy in the field.

Some fields in Will County were dry and planted in the middle of April. But every field cannot be planted the same day. Weather can be quite different from eastern Will County to western Will County. Many farmers were able to plant soybeans in mid-to-late April; then the rainy spell came, and they did not finish planting soybeans until June.

Planting dates for corn and soybeans are significantly earlier than they were 30 or more years ago. In most years, corn yields are best if the plant can grow, pollinate, and produce an ear before the hottest and usually driest time of summer, July and August. This means many farmers have pushed planting dates to as close to April Fool’s Day as possible. There are other variables the farmer must strive to achieve in addition to the date on the calendar when planting.

Seed spacing and depth should be as uniform as possible. Corn seeds that are planted too close together or shallow may grow as runts the rest of the year and detract from the final yield. It is also important that the soil is dry and of good tilth so compaction does not hinder root growth the rest of the year. That can be tough; not only do soils change across Will County, sometimes they change drastically across a half-mile field.

A farmer in fields of prime, well-drained soils may never see a clay hill or wet, mucky low ground all day. Meanwhile, in a less-blessed township of Will County, I won’t name any names, the farmer and his planter may encounter wet muck, hard clay and only a tiny bit of prime soil in each pass across the field.

Now that we have passed Father’s Day, it is apparent that our recent spate of wet weather and ponding water in fields has created many areas in fields that are less than perfect. “Good” yields by fall are still possible given a summer of ample rain, but experience tells me that the amazing corn yields of the previous two years are probably out of reach this year, given the many areas of reduced corn populations in our fields.

The planted fields of corn and soybeans will slowly turn bare fields to seas of green. The point at which a field covers most of the ground and creates a living blanket over the soil is called canopy. Farmers look forward to their growing crops creating a quick canopy. This slows the growth of weeds, helps to slow soil moisture evaporation and greatly reduces the risk of erosion during rainstorms.

Hay growers around the county have been very active harvesting some exceptional yields, especially when compared to last spring’s drought-affected yields, during our first prolonged dry spell of the summer. When hay fields are cut, the crop must dry significantly before it can be packed into bales. Rain will greatly reduce the value of hay that is cut. Sun, heat, and wind will accelerate drying. The longer the crop must lay in the field until harvest, decreases both value and quantity of the hay.

Many, many years ago, when I was naïve, I heard a farm wife say, “You make hay when the sun shines, and love when it rains.”
That may better explain why some farmers can get a little grumpy when we are in a dry spell.


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