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'There's an awful lot of corn out there,' Weather delays Fall harvest

Each year, Dixon farmer Jim Schielein hopes to have all of his crops harvested by his birthday, Nov. 9. That didn’t happen. His realistic goal is usually by Thanksgiving. That isn’t happening either.

Extreme weather conditions have put area farmers in a tight spot and pushed harvest windows back this season. A snowstorm on Halloween meant that some wouldn’t finish until Christmas. A late, wet planting season in the Spring hasn’t helped either. Neither did above-normal rains in August and September. 

“Everything got turned on its head,” Schielein said. “Everything about this year, the rules changed.”

According to Ogle County Farm Bureau Manager Ron Kern, only 90 percent of beans in his county have been harvested. Normally, all the beans would have been harvested by this time.

In terms of corn, 50 percent has been brought in, “conservatively” speaking. The area is usually closer to 90 percent by now. 

Polo farmer Brian Duncan called the year “an exercise in patience and perseverance.” He finished his beans last Friday, But he’s harvested just two-thirds of his corn. 

“Who knows when we’ll finish,” Duncan said. “Christmas maybe.”

The wet and cold conditions have made opportunities to get out to work in the fields scarce. Heavy equipment can’t be put into the fields or transported when it’s muddy. Planting conditions in the Spring prevented some from even planting at all. 

“Some farmers didn’t even get to plant everything that they hoped to,” Lee County Farm Bureau Manager Danelle Burrs said. “It’s drastically different. So many factors have contributed to where we are today. But it all started with the wet spring.”

Area farmers and agricultural officials agree on the most taxing of the logistical issues: drying wet crops. Every single bushel has to be dried. Crops are placed in bins with a finite amount of space that use large amounts of propane. The process can create a bottleneck in the harvest operation. 

“On a normal day, let’s say you could harvest 200 acres,” Kern said. “Because you have to dry everything, you can only harvest 60. It all has to get dried.”

Rain has upped the moisture percentages of crops that can’t go into storage or be sold before drying. 

“Twenty-six percent [moisture] to dry down to 15 percent takes a lot of money,” Schielein said. “A lot of time, a lot of propane and a lot of electricity. That has been the biggest factor for us.”

Conditions this year could also throw off the schedule for next year. With farmers still busying harvesting crops, less time has been available to be allocated towards fall tillage or applying fertilizer for next season. 

“We hope not,” Burrs said. “People are genuinely hoping that 2020 brings a bit of a more standard year. But we can’t predict mother nature.”