2013 year in review

By John Fulton

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[March 28, 2014]  What a difference a year makes! The 2013 county-level yields for corn and soybeans were released in late February, and they showed Logan County averaged 198.1 bushels of corn per acre and soybean yields of 56.4. The corn yield in particular rebounded sharply from the drought-affected 2012 level of 96.5. Soybeans showed a moderate increase from the 2012 level of 49.5. The 2012 soybean yields were salvaged because of Hurricane Isaac coming late in the season, but it was too late for the corn, since crop maturity and death were already upon us.

The new 10-year average yields for Logan County are 169.97 for corn and 52.79 for soybeans. The 2013 production was 41,005,000 bushels for corn and 7,162,000 for soybeans. Talk about an economic boost for Logan County! This translates to over $180,000,000 for corn income, assuming an average price of $4.40, and over $100,000,000 for soybeans at an estimated $14 per bushel.

We did experience drought conditions in 2013, but they came later in the season than the previous year. Soil moisture in the upper and subsoil levels was also much better to begin the 2013 season. The extended wet period delayed planting by four to six weeks. Many places received sufficient rainfall overall through the second week of July; then a couple of timely rains in late July and August helped fill soybean pods. September was unseasonably warm and helped the corn crop mature in a somewhat timely manner. The harvest began later than in the past few years, but we could have been much later if September had been a "normal" month for temperatures. Dry weather was more normal than not from mid-July on. As a matter of fact, most of Logan County has continued to be in a moderate drought through February. The same situation was present last year but changed abruptly.

The winter has certainly been an interesting one. Much colder temperatures, coupled with much-above-average snowfall, have created challenges with water lines freezing, propane being in short supply at times and costs of energy (natural gas, propane, gasoline and diesel fuel) increasing as well. If you didn't have a propane contract and ran low, I certainly don't have to discuss the high-price phenomenon with you. Another consequence of the weather has been that the frozen ground for much of the season hasn't allowed water to penetrate  only run off. This led to rapidly rising streams but did little to recharge soil moisture or help wells recover from low groundwater levels.

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Livestock prices have been more favorable this year. Combined with lower feed prices, things were looking up for most sectors of the livestock business. The beef industry has been in the strongest position for a while and continues to be the most favorable. Pork and dairy have been hurt the past several years. It looked like the pork enterprises were set for some gains, but new diseases, notably PEDv, have reared their ugly heads to throw profitability of affected operations into doubt. These troubles have already led to increases in pork futures prices, which will probably affect what price you pay at the store for various products. The lower number of pigs coming to market will probably also be offset by higher market weights of those coming to market.

A new farm bill is finally law. The main thrusts for producers were elimination of direct payments, enhanced risk management through crop insurance and related tools, stricter limits on receipts by an entity, a new dairy program, and authorization for the Christmas tree industry to create a marketing program. Of course, the food stamp program, SNAP, is in there too. I think most producers are just happy to know what they are dealing with, and the final passage of the bill lets people plan accordingly.

The 2014 growing season is something everyone in the agriculture industry is looking forward to. It is filled with uncertainty, as always, but also with promise. After the winter of 2013-2014, most people are looking forward to the promise part.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension director for Logan, Menard and Sangamon counties]

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