Spring 2013 Logan County Farm Outlook
The condition of Logan County soils
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[March 29, 2013]
During the early 1930s, farming
practices changed because of a single technological breakthrough:
harvesting with combines. This changed everything for the producer
because larger crops could be planted and harvested economically. As
many as 100 million acres of ground in Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma,
Texas and Kansas were put into production. Hedgerows were eliminated
to make more acreage for production. Moldboard plows were used to
make deep furrows, exposing huge amounts of good soil for
production. The plan was to change the world by producing so much
wheat that everyone would have enough to eat.
By coincidence, an extended period of drought and heat affecting
much of the United States and Canada began at exactly the same time.
It was remarked that the drought and heat of the '30s was a plague
of biblical proportions. Instead of increasing the wheat yield, the
drought and heat turned the whole country into what became known as
the Dust Bowl, a 10-year period of ruined acreage, blowing soil and
deep economic depression.
It is a fact that the abandonment of
farming practices such as the maintenance of hedgerows and crop
rotation, plus open tillage and the lack of cover crops were the
greatest contributing causes to the Dust Bowl, but the drought of
the '30s and the intensification of heat also contributed to ruining
the soil on as many as 10 million acres, according to Wikipedia.
In light of the drought and heat of 2012 in our county, this dust
bowl reality begs the question, "Were the soils of Logan County and
central Illinois injured by the heat and drought conditions present
Greg Phillips of Sparks Soil Testing, a local soil testing lab
and service, testified that we have some of the best soils in the
country right here in Logan County. They are deep soils with plenty
of organic matter, a high cation exchange capacity and a high
ability to retain moisture. Phillips said this is a wonderful place
to plant crops. The soils here are one of central Illinois' richest
As to the practice of soil testing, Phillips explained that
producers cannot control the amount of sunlight, rainfall, season
length or the temperatures, but they can control the soil fertility
and therefore influence production that way. Soil testing gives the
producer the best indicators for proper application of fertilizers,
including micronutrients to make crops grow better.
Sampling is taken from the top 7 inches of fields from the time
the soil thaws through the first part of July to analyze what levels
of nutrients are present and what levels of nutrients the plants are
taking from the soil; all are indicators about how the corn
production is proceeding. Phillips and his staff pride themselves on
their ability to know what is going on in their clients' ground, and
they keep copious comparative records about these conditions, dating
all the way back to 1987.
Phillips explained that there are plenty of soil labs around the
state, but the local lab gives added benefit to local producers
because they are very familiar with all the local fields, which they
have visited many, many times. This familiarity allows them to
recognize things that technicians from distant labs would be
unfamiliar with, and the long-term relationship with their clients
also gives them the opportunity to share additional recommendations
based on their observations, such as recommending the application of
pesticides on a particular field because they saw an overabundance
of corn beetles while visiting to take soil samples.
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When asked if the drought and heat of 2012 harmed the local
soils, Phillips was very reassuring. "The heat and drought of 2012
did not damage our Logan County soils," he said. He remarked that
these soils are remarkably tolerant and fertile, and since they are
so deep and vast, there is little that can harm them except for the
same kinds of farming practices that were used in the West and
Southwest in the '30s. Over-tillage, which exposes too much soil to
the ravages of the wind, can cause our valuable soils to become
someone else's valuable soils.
The National Weather Service has reported that we have had
adequate precipitation so far in 2013, and Logan County's drought
status has been updated from extreme drought in fall 2012 to normal
precipitation. Farmers have reported that water is flowing from
field tiles, indicating that soil moisture in many places in the
county is good even to the depth of 4 feet. This is quite a
turnaround from the conditions that started in late June 2012.
Phillips said that with good soil conservation practices, even
through an extended period of drought conditions, the abundant
benefits of the soils in Logan County will persist and remain
And so, our treasure is safe for now.
[By JIM YOUNGQUIST]