In mid-April, planters were still parked in machine sheds on Peoria-area farms. That makes for some anxious moments for farmers.
A similar spring was experienced by area farmers in 2008, as the weather dictated that crops would not get planted until May. It was a cool, wet April one year ago, and this year seems to offer a similar pattern. We even had a significant snowfall on March 29th and a measurable snowfall on April 5th. Those are sure signs that planting season is still several days—if not a few weeks—away yet.
An added issue of concern for farmers is the extra workload facing them this spring. Since it was a late harvest last year, some routine work that is traditionally done after harvest had the door closed as the long winter season set in. The primary chore that did not get accomplished was the application of anhydrous ammonia.
Anhydrous ammonia is a form of nitrogen fertilizer applied on land that will be planted to corn. Corn is a grass and is very responsive to nitrogen in the form of increased yields. In this area of the state, it is usually applied in the fall. As soil temperatures cool, the fertilizer will stabilize in the soil during the winter months, and then be activated the following spring and summer when temperatures warm up.
With the rush of the planting season, farmers have a couple of options if they were unable to apply anhydrous ammonia in the fall. First, if there is time and labor available, it can be applied prior to planting this spring. Most farmers would prefer this. A second option is to “sidedress” nitrogen. Sidedressing means that the nitrogen is applied after the corn is planted, and it is already six to 12 inches tall. Timing is even more critical if this is the case. Farmers run the risk of a wet period, and at this stage, corn can grow very quickly and the door can shut to sidedressing nitrogen. With sidedressing, the tractor has to be driven in between the corn rows to pull the anhydrous applicator and apply the nitrogen. Once the plants reach three to four feet tall, the axles on the tractor will snap the stalk and kill the plant, even though the wheels are straddling the rows of corn.
Even if we do have another May planting season, recent history indicates that may not be such a dire situation. Last year’s corn crop was planted the first two weeks of May, and it was a record crop, as farmers in Peoria County averaged 201 bushels per acre. In fact, according to the National Agriculture Statistics Service, seven counties in the state averaged over 200 bushels of corn per acre. To our west, Warren County led Illinois, averaging 207 bushels, followed by McDonough (206), Woodford (206), Stark (203), Peoria (201), Knox (200) and Tazewell (200). Woodford County was the first county in Illinois to break the 200 bushel-per-acre barrier, in 2007. iBi