A Publication of WTVP

The hot July weather has taken a toll on crops in the Peoria area. State Climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey indicated that statewide temperatures in July averaged 80.1 degrees, or 4.3 degrees above normal. This is the sixth-warmest July on record (tied with 1955). The warmest July on record in Illinois was in 1936, when temperatures averaged 83.1 degrees.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl was taking place in the Great Plains states as a result of hot, dry and windy weather, and dust from these storms blew all the way to Washington, D.C. In fact, the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was signed into law as a result of the dust settling over Washington. Hugh Hammond Bennett, who came to be known as “the father of soil conservation,” was on his way to testify before Congress in April of 1935, when he learned of a dust storm heading into the capital from the Great Plains. The dust was proof enough for the congressmen to realize the extent of the problem and the need for soil conservation practices.

Back to 2011. The average statewide rainfall in July was slightly above average, at 4.12 inches of rain. But this can be somewhat deceiving, as Galena, in the northwestern corner of the state, reported over 19 inches, while Peoria received less than an inch and a half during the same timeframe. The southern part of the state also received more rainfall, leaving a large dry pocket between Interstates 70 and 80, with western Illinois being excessively dry.

Unfortunately, the hot days were accompanied by warm nights. As we know from experience a few years ago, hot daytime temperatures followed by warm night temperatures does not give the plants, especially corn, much of a chance to recuperate, so to speak.

On the bright side, the hot weather was accompanied by high humidity. While it was uncomfortable for many of us, the crops likely benefited. The moisture-laden corn and soybean plants also got some relief from the heavy morning dews.

On another farm front, producers are facing a problem that has been growing in recent years. In 1995, Roundup-tolerant crops took the agriculture world by storm, and farmers readily adopted the practice. Roundup-tolerant corn and soybean seeds planted by farmers went from 10 percent to well over 50 percent in the last half of the ‘90s.

It was easy. Just spray Roundup herbicide on your fields, and the weeds would die, but the crops would grow and prosper. There was also a big environmental benefit, as Roundup is not carried off by water and does not seep into the soil profile.

But the easy days of Roundup as a cure-all for farmers are over, as weeds like marestail and waterhemp have become tolerant to the herbicide. Spraying Roundup over these aggressive weeds doesn’t even seem to faze them, unless they are just a couple inches tall. If they escape control in the early stages of growth, a waterhemp plant can grow two inches a day, and in a short amount of time, the branches can sprawl out enough for a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

New biotechnology and different herbicides are available that attack the weed through other modes of action. Farmers are adopting these new herbicides, which seem destined to replace Roundup to a large extent over the coming years.

Hot, dry, weeds, Roundup resistance…the face of farming changes year to year. I want to leave you with some basic terminology on the farm front, especially the “agronomic” farm front. I’ve talked about weeds and the soil as it relates to the weather. What is a weed? A weed is any plant that is out of place. In other words, the plants growing in the cracks of a sidewalk or in your garden are weeds. What is dirt? Dirt is not in a farm field; that’s called soil. Dirt is soil that is out of place. In other words, dirt was on your shoes when you walked across the kitchen floor after it was just swept. iBi