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What to know on May 6: This week in Illinois ag

Reports that the weather is warmer and wetter than normal are no surprise to farmers with saturated fields, but are they losing nitrogen? Plus, how to get your kids involved in crop scouting.

Holly Spangler, Prairie Farmer Senior Editor

May 6, 2024

3 Min Read
Standing water in a muddy field
SATURATED: This field has seen more than 4 inches of rain over the past 10 days.Holly Spangler

Warmer and wetter

The story for April? Warmer and wetter than usual.

State climatologist Trent Ford reports that April ended with average temperatures from the mid-50s in northern Illinois to the high 60s in southern Illinois — that’s 2 to 7 degrees above normal. Folks in several parts of the state saw the upper 80s on Thursday, and the month ended 1.5 degrees warmer than usual.

And if you thought the whole winter was warmer than usual, you’re right. Ford says January to April 2024 is in the top 10 warmest starts to the year for the whole state.

Northern and southern Illinois remained dry overall last week, but the central third of the state saw anywhere from a half-inch of rain to 3 inches or more. “Saturated” was the word of the week for many folks.

April ends wetter than most and Madison County “wins” the prize for the month, with nearly 10 inches total. And that drought in western Illinois? Definitely over for most of that part of the state. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows parts of 12 counties on the southern end of the state are still considered abnormally dry or in moderate drought.

Ford calls the near-term forecast a “rinse and repeat” of the past few weeks. Look for above-normal temperatures this week, with plenty of chances for rain and storms. He’s predicting seven-day rain totals to come in at an inch in northern Illinois and as much as 2.5 inches in southern Illinois.

If you’ve missed the big rains so far and your planter’s still rolling, you’re in luck. Ford says your windows of opportunity for fieldwork will remain open. Across the state, planting is pretty much on target with the five-year average, with 25% of corn planted and 6% emerged.

Farmers with saturated fields are saying the same thing they always say this time of year: “We just need to bank this up for June!”

Looking for nitrogen

Based on the aforementioned rainfall, Matt Montgomery, a longtime Pioneer agronomist and former Extension crops educator, is warning that additional nitrogen may be needed in parts of central Illinois.

He believes nitrogen was lost last week in central Illinois, and based on rainfall and temperatures, farmers may need to apply an additional 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen on protected fall-applied anhydrous. Montgomery wants to be clear that he’s taking a conservative approach, and he’s speaking about fields with fall-applied anhydrous. Montgomery has a 15-minute video where he walks through the math, with some information to help you make decisions on your farm — again, based on math.

Emerson Nafziger, longtime U of I crop scientist, now emeritus, has a few things to say about nitrogen this spring, too. Check out his notes here.

Plant the crop, scout the crop

University of Illinois Extension is again sponsoring its annual Illinois Youth Crop Scouting Competition. It doesn’t take place until July 30, but now is a good time to figure out teams — before school is out. Teams are made up of two to five young people, and they compete in a one-day contest that rotates through 10 stations on the U of I South Farms.

Topics include crop diseases, insects, weeds, herbicide injury, growth stages, parts of the plant, degree-day computation, sprayer calibration and more. The top four teams win cash prizes — $500 for the winner — and the top two advance to a national competition. Sign up online by June 30.

What to study? Illinois Extension recommends:

IPM curriculum. Integrated Pest Management presentations are available in both PDF and PowerPoint formats and include notes.

Virtual Crop Scout School. The Virtual Crop Scout School consists of webinars from crop protection specialists at 11 Midwest universities and is offered through the Crop Protection Network. The series is free; registration is required to access.

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About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Prairie Farmer Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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