Crop yields in Peoria County have been better than expected this year — a pleasant surprise. Who would have thought that some yields would topple the 200-bushel mark when we were in the midst of 100-degree days in July? In fact, we had eight 100-degree days this summer, and 26 of the 31 days in July topped the 90-degree mark. Those isolated showers in June and July hit many fields in Peoria County, but other areas were not as fortunate.
Nonetheless, how could so many Peoria County farmers be harvesting a corn crop that was nearly 30 to 40 percent better than expected? Although we had intense heat, the rains enabled the corn plant to pollinate in July, and we had kernels on the cob. Through August and September, temperatures cooled and additional rains came. If you had a break from mowing the lawn earlier in the summer, that job likely resumed in August and September. I think we underestimate the positive impact that August rains have on corn yields. August rains add kernel size and weight, so if the kernel went from pea-sized to marble-sized, that adds up to a much larger volume, and hence, yield.
Another factor to consider is the weather. Last fall, farmers were able to apply fertilizer in good weather conditions, and this spring, as tempting as it was to plant early, many waited until early to mid-April to begin field work. Heavy tillage equipment stayed off the fields until soils were drained of excess moisture and ideal planting conditions resulted. Tillage done on wet soil in the spring can be detrimental to corn yields if the weather turns dry later in the summer, as the soil becomes compacted and air and water movement in the soil profile is greatly reduced. Compacted soil does not allow plant roots to penetrate and access water, oxygen and nutrients.
Soybean yields were also much better than expected. August rains always help soybean yields, and this year was a great example. Many fields topped the 50-bushel-per-acre mark, and some yields reached 70 bushels an acre. Soybeans have a much wider timeline in which to pollinate. Plants can flower for 30 to 40 days, unlike corn, which has just a ten-day window of opportunity to pollinate. August rains added pods per plant and beans per pod, and also increased the size of the beans.
While many farms in Peoria County experienced better than expected yields, not all areas did. Modern combines are equipped with yield monitors, which give instant readouts on yields as they harvest through the field. In areas that missed the rain, yields were sporadic. The monitor in the combine could literally drop to zero while harvesting, as yields could go from 10 to 100 bushels per acre or 20 to 200 bushels per acre in the same pass through the field. Why? Most likely it was due to the soil. On a dry year, soil types really stand out, as the dark soils with high capacity to hold water will normally outyield the lighter, timber-type soils.
It was another interesting year in agriculture, and the good yields will have a positive effect on many sectors of our economy! iBi