Kevin Malley, a saxophone teacher at Knox, has been planting crops on his 850-acre farm for the past 11 years. In all that time, however, he has never seen a harvest season as slow as this.
“The main thing is the record cold temperatures have prevented the crops from maturing in a timely manner,” he said. “Then we got the double whammy of a wet fall. Even the mature crops won’t support heavy machinery.”
Although initial crop yields have been excellent, cold weather throughout much of the summer and heavy rains during the fall have greatly slowed the growth and harvest of corn and soybeans – two of Illinois’ most important cash crops. As of this past week, only 37 percent of the state’s corn and 75 percent of its soybeans have been harvested, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Malley, who as of last Thursday had only half his corn harvested, was unsettled by the late harvest schedule.
“It’s November now,” he said, noting that the fall harvest is often completed by the middle of October and always by the beginning of November. “I am still optimistic but very nervous[…]some of this crop will not get harvested. Some of the corn will not get picked unless it completely turns around.”
Simply getting the fields cleared of their crops is not the only problem.
“The damp July/August caused a lot of molds to affect the soybeans,” Malley said. In some spots of fields, up to 50 percent of the harvest has been infected. Some corn has begun sprouting in the air and become infected with three different types of fungi. Farmers lose money on this crop as they receive a lower price due to the damage.
The heavy rains also mean the crop has to be dried artificially.
“With the corn, we’re spending a lot of money on natural gas to dry the crop since Mother Nature won’t do it for us,” said Malley.
Farmers are being hit financially in other areas as well. Even after crops are brought in, there is still work to be done, such as tilling and fertilizing the fields in preparation for the next year, but the tardiness of the harvest means that all gets pushed back.
“We always put fertilizer on corn following the soybeans, but I really don’t think that will be done,” said Malley. The fertilizer, however, had already been purchased.
“We have to do our fall work in the spring,” said Malley. Another wet spring could severely cripple local farmers. According to Malley, an average spring would likely allow them to catch up, but he does not “count on that.”
So far, despite the slow harvest, market prices for corn and soybeans have stayed low.
“We had a bumper crop in the field, and we still do,” said Malley. However, traders are nervous, and if the weather turns to snow, prices could go up quickly.
With the recent warm and sunny weather, however, things are beginning to look slightly more hopeful. Although it will take some “long nights and opportunities from Mother Nature,” Malley believes it still “remains to be seen whether it will be a triumph over adversity or an opportunity lost.”
“This will be a harvest I’ll tell my grandkids about,” he said.