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May 29, 2012

Trip Report - Illinois and Western Indiana

Over the weekend, I toured the fields of Illinois and western Indiana going from Chicago, Bloomington, Havana, Jacksonville, Taylorville, Decatur, Champaign, Lafayette, Indiana, and back to Chicago with the following observations:

Illinois - general conditions

  • The soil moisture gets dryer the further south you go in Illinois.
  • Far northern Illinois has good soil moisture, whereas far southern Illinois is extremely dry.
  • The soil moisture in the state is going to be much dryer when the report is issued Tuesday afternoon compared to last week.
  • The temperatures over the weekend set record highs all across the state with some regions recording the hottest temperatures ever for this early in the growing season.
  • The lawns are turning brown all across the state and it looks like mid-August especially in southern Illinois. Usually this time of the year the lawns are lush and green and everybody is cutting grass, especially over the Memorial Day weekend, but on this trip, I saw maybe only a half a dozen people cutting their lawns.
  • South of Peoria, where there is a lot of irrigation, most of the center pivots were working. The majority of the water was being put on corn, but some were irrigating newly planted soybeans in order to initiate germination.
  • In contrast to the prior two springs, there is not a single area of standing water outside of the far northern tier of counties in the state. There were a few small areas where there had been standing water earlier in May, but nearly all those areas had been replanted.
  • The wheat crop in Illinois is already a golden yellow and the wheat harvest will begin within two weeks. A lot of the wheat did not look very good and it appeared to be shorter than normal, which I am sure is due to the dry conditions.

Illinois Corn

  • The shortest corn is in northern Illinois where most of the crop is about a foot tall. The most advanced corn is in the southwestern part of the state where a lot of the crop is waist-high to chest-high. The average height in the state is about knee-high (so much for the old saying about the corn being knee-high by the Fourth of July).
  • In the northern one-third of the state the corn is doing very well and I did not see any moisture stress.
  • In the central third of the state the crop is still generally good, but moisture stress is apparent everywhere, especially on the lighter soils and the hilltops.
  • In the southern third of the state, the crop is suffering from severe moisture stress, with the corn rolling its leaves early in the day. In the driest fields, the height of the crop is uneven and the growth of the corn has slowed.
  • The color of the corn in many fields is turning a pale green and if the stress is not relieved soon, the crop is going to be shorter than normal and the yields are going to be reduced.
  • In the vast majority of the fields, the corn stands were generally good, but there were individual fields where there are skips in the row, especially on the lighter soils.
  • If the entire state of Illinois received good rains this week, then the damage from this early heat and dryness will be limited.
  • In areas where it stays dry this week, the corn crop could be in real trouble because the more advanced corn will be entering into pre-pollination with extremely short soil moisture.

Illinois Soybeans

  • The most advanced soybeans were maybe six inches tall, but most soybeans were just emerging or have not yet emerged.
  • The topsoil is very dry in many areas and the soybeans will not germinate until there is additional moisture.
  • In the fields that have emerged, the plant populations are spotty with fewer plants on the lighter soils, especially the hilltops. These missing soybeans might still germinate when additional rainfall is received.
  • At this early stage, it is very difficult to judge the condition of the crop, but in many fields, the color of the soybeans was a pale green which is what you would expect under these dryer conditions.
  • The soybean crop in Illinois could still do fine if the weather cooperates for the remainder of the growing season.
  • If it stays in the current dryer pattern, then the plant populations will be lower than normal and the early growth of the crop will be stunted.
  • The wheat harvest in the state will begin within two weeks, so if there is adequate moisture to plant, the double crop soybeans will only be a couple of weeks later than the full-season soybeans.

Indiana corn

  • The general conditions in western Indiana is very similar to that of central Illinois with dry soils, some moisture stress appearing, and the crop in general need of a good rain. I did not think the moisture situation in western Indiana was a critical as it is in southern Illinois.
  • The average height of the corn in western Indiana is less than a foot tall with a lot of the corn 6-8 inches tall.
  • The plant populations looked fine, but there were some problems appearing on the lighter soils and the hilltops.
  • The corn crop in western Indiana could still do fine if the weather cooperates for the remainder of the growing season. But, if the weather stays dryer than normal, the corn crop in western Indiana is going to have a real challenge ahead.

Indiana soybeans

  • The most advanced soybeans are just a few inches tall with much of the crop net yet emerged.
  • In the dryer areas additional rainfall will be needed to initiate germination.
  • It's hard to say what the plant populations will be, but I suspect there will be spotty stands on the lighter soils and the hilltops.
  • The soybean crop in Indiana could still do fine of course and this problematic start could be overcome with improved weather later in the summer.

Trip Summary

It's been a very unusual start to the early growing season with record high temperatures and very dry soils. The amount of moisture stress exhibited by the corn crop was more than I had expected, especially for late in May. In southern Illinois, it looked and felt like it was the middle of August. The corn crop in Illinois could mostly overcome these problems if the weather would improve quickly. If the weather does not improve, or if there is a repeat of these types of hot and dry conditions, then the corn crop in Illinois could be poised for some real trouble ahead.