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Getting ready for spring

Take a deep breath farming community, let’s not hyperventilate just yet.

It is true that last week’s rainfall has kept most tractors parked in northern Illinois. In visiting with producers they invariably share where they were in terms of field work at this time last year. Remember the 2012 spring was one of the warmest on record.

Emerson Nafziger stated in a recent article that in 2012 we had 5 percent of the Illinois corn crop planted by April 1, and 17 percent planted by April 9. This year, the April 8 issue of Illinois Weather & Crops from the Illinois office of NASS gives no percentage planted as of April 7, which means that less than 1 percent had been planted.

Our soils remain comparatively cool in northern Illinois, ranging in the 40s when measured at a 4-inch depth under bare soil. Nafziger shared cool soils by themselves don’t represent much threat to corn seed, but soils that are both cool and wet slow germination and emergence, and provide an advantage to microbes in the soil that can attack corn seed.

Some producers may be inclined to set planting depth a little shallower in an attempt to help with emergence under such conditions. That can help sometimes, but the shallowest-placed seed after planting should never be less than about 1.25 inches deep, and planter settings should seldom be less than 1.5 inches deep. Remember, too, that soil close to the surface both warms faster during the day and cools down faster at night than soil beneath the surface, so the overall effect of shallower placement on temperature experienced by the seed and seedling might not be very predictable.

What effect does soil temperature have on corn emergence? Plenty. Research at Purdue demonstrated that corn takes nearly 35 days to emerge with a soil temperature of 50 degrees. An increase in soil temperature to 57 degrees decreases the time of emergence to seven to eight days. Each year brings different climatic challenges; we encourage you not to make rash planting decisions this early in April.

Every year somewhere in the agriculture world neighbors, friends and even strangers come together to help, support or do an incredibly kind act for their fellow man. They harvest a neighbor’s crops; they take care of livestock; and they provide machinery. This is not done for recognition, to make the paper or the evening news; it is simply individuals stepping up to assist one of their own. These always catch my attention and I cannot resist reading the stories from beginning to end.

It has happened again.

I believe this is a story that deserves to be shared. (I was not in attendance nor am I an investigative reporter, I am but an agronomist who did make several calls to ensure his facts were reasonably correct.)

Recently a benefit was held in northern Illinois for a young man diagnosed with leukemia. The rural community response was overwhelming. The biggest draw of the evening was the raffling of an IH 460 tractor that was restored by Brian Overall of Midwest Tractor and Plow. The winning ticket was purchased by Daniel Johnson of Janesville, Wis. Upon notification of his winning ticket, Johnson’s response was to auction the tractor again for the benefit of the family. (I have not met Mr. Johnson but would like to.)

The story of the restored IH 460 is not over. The tractor was purchased by a group of Grundy County farmers. They, in turn, are donating and auctioning the tractor at the Afternoon with Andrew event for Andrew Krull, a long-time 4-H supporter, and his family on April 28 at the Grundy County Fairgrounds.

It is remarkable to think of the value of this tractor, for the original and subsequent owners during its “working” years, the two families who have/will benefit from its auction, and even for this tractor’s future owner.

To those who attended the benefits, purchased raffle tickets, re-purchased the tractor at auction, and all who provided support for those less fortunate, a sincere “Thank You.” If your tool shed would look better with a fully restored IH 460 parked inside, be at the Grundy County Fairgrounds at 3 p.m. on April 28.

Have a safe and successful spring planting season.

Russ Higgins is from the University of Illinois Extension, Northern Illinois Agronomy Research Center.

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