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Spring corn planting foiled by wet weather in Will County

Published: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:40 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:48 a.m. CDT
(Lathan Goumas — lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
John Kiefner changes a tractor tire while working on his farm in Manhattan on Friday. Because of the long winter, Kiefner's fields have not be ready for him to plant his corn and soybean seeds.
(Lathan Goumas — lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
John Kiefner answers his cellphone while working Friday on his farm in Mahanttan. The call was about a part he ordered for one of his tractors.
(Lathan Goumas — lgoumas@shawmedia.com)
After changing the oil on a tractor John Keifner drives it back to the barn while working on his farm in Manhattan on Friday. Because of the long winter Keifner fields have not be ready for him to plant his corn and soybean seeds.

Will County farmer John Kiefner will have to find other ways to keep himself busy this week, with Mother Nature keeping him on the sideline – and off the fields.

Like other Midwest planters, the corn and soybean farmer’s efforts to get his corn crops into the ground this month have been thwarted by rain and overnight drops in temperatures. Fields have been too wet or too cold for seeds to germinate effectively and Kiefner, like other farmers, have been a little hesitant to take that risk.

Instead, he’s working on machinery or spraying portions of his fields with fertilizer, all the while keeping his eyes to the sky in hopes for even a brief stint of warmer, dryer days.

“I’ve basically been playing cat and mouse with the weather,” Kiefner said. “Mother Nature has thrown such extremes in the last couple of years, I’m not sure what an average start time for us is anymore.”

It wasn’t until Saturday that Kiefner was able to get corn crops planted into a small portion of his 600-acre corn and soybean farm. But by Monday, he was back on the sideline with more rain and chilly weather in the forecast.

For weeks, Kiefner and most other Will County farmers have resisted the urge to put their crops in the ground with the soil only borderline ready. Kiefner pointed out how costly the worst-case scenario can be if farmers were hit with a prolonged cold spell. For the corn seeds alone, it costs farmers $120 per acre, he said.

“If a farmer planted 100 acres and had to come back, that would really not be favorable. It’s rare, but when it happens, it hurts,” he said. “So I play on the conservative side. If we could tailor-make our weather, we would all plant during the last week of April, first week of May and have our corn done by Mother’s Day and get that perfect one inch of rain every week.”

Will County Farm Bureau Manager Mark Schneidewind said this week’s forecast – filled with cooler temperatures and chances of heavy rain – leaves farmers with unsure footing on the fields, he said.

“We’re really not seeing the temperatures warm up,” Schneidewind said, noting temperatures are not expected to get above 70 all week.

As of Sunday, 19 percent of the nation’s corn crop is in the ground, just behind the five-year average of 28 percent, but better than last year’s average of 5 percent, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The weekend warmup allowed Illinois farmers to make some progress, with 32 percent of corn crops now in the ground, compared to last week’s 5 percent.

With the progress made, Kiefner and fellow Manhattan farmer Jim Robbins aren’t worried just yet. Robbins said it doesn’t take as long to plant as it used to with today’s bigger, more efficient machines.

“We can always make up for lost time,” Robbins said, who got about 25 percent of his corn crops into the ground over the weekend before the area was hit Sunday evening with another round of rain.

Even last year was a slow start to planting, Robbins said, with most farmers not getting anything into the ground before Thursday. Yet, U.S. farmers that year had a record 13.9 billion bushels of corn.

“We’ve got time. You know, people planted corn until June last year and it turned out fine,” he said. “The critical thing is how the weather turns out this summer. Spring weather is important, but it’s what we get during the summer that’s even more important.”

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