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From the Spring 2013 Logan County Farm Outlook

2012 in review

By John Fulton

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[March 25, 2013]  It's no surprise. The highlight reel from 2012 would include dry weather, heat, and more dry weather and heat. Of course the winter months weren't bad -- comparatively dry with decent temperatures (translated, this means dry with heat). Corn yields for the 2012 season suffered proportionately, with the Logan County yield placed at 96.5 bushels per acre, according to the county yield estimates published by the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

To compare with other drought years in modern production times, we ended up similar to the 1983 yield of 96. The 1988 year saw the average production plummet to 71, and the drought of 1980 placed corn yields at 75.

The 2012 crop brings our new 10-year average down to 169.1 bushels per acre. Of course, times have changed. Hybrids have improved, production practices have evolved further, and the value of the crop and cost of the inputs have greatly increased.

Soybean yields from 2012 achieved a respectable average of 47.3 bushels per acre. We were saved by a late-season hurricane named Isaac that brought much-needed rainfall to our region. Otherwise, soybean yields would have been closer to 30 for an average.

The new 10-year average soybean yield is 51.3 bushels per acre for Logan County. Other stressful production years saw an average of 41 bushels in 2003, 40 in 1987, 38.5 in 1984 and 36 in 1983. The resilience of soybeans is definitely seen in the yields.

The weather of 2012 was definitely irregular. We were considered to be in an extreme drought area for most of the year, but it rained regularly somewhere in the area. Most areas didn't receive the rainfall in large enough quantities, or at the critical times.

Of greater influence on yields was the heat. Lincoln recorded six days over 100 degrees, while Springfield had 11. The timing of the intense heat was during pollination or early development of kernels, which led to abortion of kernels as the summer went on. The plants simply couldn't take up enough moisture to keep both the plant and the kernels alive.

Corn yields ranged widely, from zero to field averages in the 170 range. Most yields fell somewhere in between those figures, as evidenced by the county average.

A new census of agriculture is in the final stages of data collection. This will mean new figures will be available sometime next year for number of farms, income, livestock numbers, crops produced and specialty crops. Unfortunately, the yields of the drought year will also be with us for a while since the census is done every five years.

Crop input costs continue to be at moderately high to record-high levels. Seed cost is one that continues to climb as more technology is used to produce a genetically diverse seed supply. Seed corn costs range from around $200 per bag to over $400. We no longer get 2.5-3 acres per bag either. The most common planting population -- plants or actually seeds per acre -- is now about 35,000. Soybean seed costs $30 to $45 per bag, and that is for less than a bushel.

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Don't get me wrong -- the seed companies are earning it. Some of the highest priced corn means the corn produces naturally occurring proteins to kill insects, so insecticide isn't needed on those acres.

Fertilizer prices have moderated somewhat but are still two to five times higher than they were 10 years ago.

Crop prices have also remained historically high. Exports have been lower. Reversing a recent trend, livestock feed use has been higher. Use to produce fuel as ethanol or soy oil has also been increasing in recent years.

Lower yields and continued high use have given us higher commodity prices. Livestock prices have remained high, but so have the feed costs. This has led to livestock producers working for little or nothing in many species.

What's ahead for the coming year? One never knows, but the drought trend seems to be breaking. Better moisture through the winter has put us in better shape going into the planting season. Now, if we can get away from the extreme heat of last year, we may return to the larger yields to which our area is accustomed.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension]


Spring 2013
Logan County Farm Outlook


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