September 11, 2012

Foreign Grain Buyers Touring Illinois Farms

Grain buyers from around the world are touring Illinois farms this week.

Buyers in the international delegation are from China, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. They are accompanied by members of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Department official Jim Mackey says the buyers are particularly concerned about drought damage.

Mackey tells The State Journal-Register in Springfield that the buyers could be wondering if that means prices are higher.

The University of Illinois released a report Monday that found export demand and pricing will depend on final yields from U.S. corn producers. Illinois agriculture officials say the drought forced the department to move up this year's trade delegation visit because the early start of harvest.

September 06, 2012

'Average' Crop Revealed for Illinois Pumpkin Day

Pumpkin growers from around the Midwest spent Thursday picking up tips from one of the leading institutions on the crop’s overall success.

Experts from the University of Illinois discussed the latest on plant disease, insects, and proper equipment at Pumpkin Day at the University of Illinois.  The group toured the U of I’s Vegetable Crops research farm.

Crop Sciences Professor Mohammad Babadoost says overall, it was an average year for both the large ones used at Halloween, and those processed for food. 

He says drought was a key factor, along with insect and disease.

"And everybody hoped to have an almost bumper crop (in 2012)," he said.  "But it happened to be very dry.  Dry conditions helped to keep the disease pressure down, until about two weeks ago, then disease started showing up."

Bababoost says the hardest part of dealing with the summer was some of the pumpkin crop aborted the fruits because of the extreme heat, and insect pressure was higher.

About 90-percent of processing pumpkins produced in the US are grown and processed in Illinois.

August 31, 2012

Farmers Can Transport Hay on Illinois Interstates

A new policy put into effect due to drought conditions in Illinois means farmers will be able to transport hay loads on interstates.

Illinois Transportation Secretary Ann Schneider on Friday announced that workers will be able to transport hay loads up to 12-feet wide on all state routes and interstates. State transportation officials say this will make processing and transporting hay more efficient. The drought hurt hay production in the state.

Schneider says farmers and truck drivers will be able to cut transportation costs and travel times throughout the rest of harvest season. Those moving hay loads will need a copy of an official authorization.

The new policy takes effect immediately. It expires Dec. 31.

August 30, 2012

East Central Illinois Braces for Heavy Rainfall

Champaign’s Public Works Department is bracing for heavy rainfall and winds as the remnants of Isaac hit the region this weekend.

To prepare, the city has swept streets and cleaned viaducts on areas bordered by major streets to remove debris that may cause flooding.

Administrative Services Supervisor Kris Koester says the hardest part is not knowing how fast a possible 6 to 10 inches of rain will hit the area.

"If it starts coming pretty quickly, then it creates more of a problem on the detention basins, and the streets that typically have flooding problems," he said.  "We've just been keeping track of the forecast, and paying attention to what's happening in other places.  That's how we make our decisions."

The city is also asking residents to assist with preparation by clearing inlets of debris in their neighborhood, and to be mindful of driving near viaducts during heavy rain. 

With updated forecasts, Koester says his staff will meet again Friday morning to determine whether additional crews are needed. 

Any flooding of streets should be reported to the Public Works Department at 403-4700. 

Urbana's fire and police departments are issuing similar warnings, asking residents to look out for standing water, avoid flooded viaducts, and to notify emergency responders of downed power lines, trees, and other obstructions in the road. 

Danville's Public Works Department says city crews will be on call and dispatched for response to water in low-lying areas.  The city says resident assistance is appreciated in clearing debris from drains, but staff requests wearing appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment.

Meanwhile, Director of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency says it’s still taking a wait-and-see approach as it prepares to address flooded roadways and creeks.

John Carlson says the hours leading up to Friday night will tell a lot as to whether the remnants of Isaac will have much of an impact on East Central Illinois. 

He says the latest forecast from the National Weather Service has rain starting tomorrow night, with the heaviest rainfall mid-afternoon on Saturday, after people leaving the University of Illinois football game.

"If the storm slows down, any of the heavier activity would occur later in the evening on Saturday, which of course would be an advantage with the game being over, and a lot of the Saturday traffic would be over at that time."

More than anything, Carlson says motorists and particularly those in rural areas need to use common sense with 6 to 10 inches of rainfall.

"Because of the drought, and it's been so dry, (The National Weather Service) says the water would be spilling out onto the roads." he said.

Meanwhile, University of Illinois Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise asks students to take caution around campus. 

In a mass e-mail, she urges anyone not registered for the emergency campus Illini Alert messaging to sign up at

August 25, 2012

Drought Means Water Woes for Indiana Livestock Farms

Indiana's worst drought in decades is drying up ponds, creeks and springs, leaving some livestock farmers scrambling to find other sources of water for their animals.

Although Indiana's drought conditions have lessened in the past week, one-third of the state remains in at least an extreme drought.

That includes much of southern Indiana, where Monroe County cattle farmer Keith Weathers says a spring he usually taps for water for his 70 thirsty cows has run dry. Weathers now has to pay in nearby Ellettsville to fill up a 400-gallon tank twice a day with water for his livestock.

Ellettsville Water Superintendent Michael Farmer tells The Herald-Times ( ) the drought has sent more customers like Weathers to the town's coin-activated Automatic Water Salesman as ponds and creeks dry up.

August 24, 2012

Plans Underway to Help Farmers Secure Loans

The mortgage crisis and economic upheaval have made it harder for individuals and small businesses to secure loans. Now there is an effort in Illinois to help ensure that farmers affected by the drought can get one.

This year's drought could mean farmers will be pouring into banks, looking for loans. Illinois Finance Authority Director Chris Meister said it is too early to tell now because farmers are busy harvesting the crops they have. But he said he expects in coming weeks that will change.

"Everything that we've been hearing is that the magnitude of this year's drought is really going to be unlike anything since the 1950's, and as a result, Illinois needs to be prepared," Meister said.

Meister said the Finance Authority, a quasi governmental body, is working to get banks on board with a program designed during the last major drought, in the '80s. It is designed to encourage banks to lend to farmers, by backing up their loans.

Meister said historically, the default rate in drought relief programs has been low, but he says the Authority is prepared if the current drought lasts beyond this year.

August 23, 2012

FDA Names Indiana Farm Tied to Contaminated Melons

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has identified an Indiana farm tied to a recent salmonella outbreak linked to cantaloupe and says the operation has launched a formal recall of the melons

Chamberlain Farms of Owensville, located about 30 miles north of Evansville, could be one source of the multistate outbreak, the FDA said in a news release Wednesday evening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that of 178 people infected in 21 states, two people have died and 62 have been hospitalized.  17 of the cases are in Illinois and 14 in Indiana.

Chamberlain Farms earlier had agreed to withdraw its cantaloupe from distribution, but the FDA said the formal recall will aid that effort and boost awareness.

Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, fever and cramps. Most recover without treatment, but it can be deadly for some.

Messages seeking comment from Chamberlain Farms were not immediately returned.

August 23, 2012

Annual Midwest Crop Tour Sees Impact of Drought

The annual crop tour of the Midwest held by the agricultural news service Pro Farmer is finding dramatic drops in corn and soybean yields from last year--and Illinois is no exception.

Pro Farmer analyst Brain Grete says they completed their survey of Illinois corn on Wednesday, and found an average corn yield of 121.6 bushels per acre. That’s better than the U-S Agriculture Department’s estimate of 116 bpa, but down 22 percent from the Pro Farmer tour’s Illinois estimate from last year.

Grete told Dave Dickey on WILL’s “Pre-Opening Market Report” Thursday that the corn crop appeared to be in better shape on the western side of the state. But even there, he says he saw many cases of “standability issues,” with corn stalks collapsing due to lack of moisture, forcing farmers to harvest early.

“I think that was probably the most glaring thing that we saw yesterday on the western side, was the standability and the stalk rot issues,” said Grete. “We did see a lot of combines out actively moving through fields. And it’s because of that standability issue, and they realize they need to get the crop before it hits the ground."

When it came to soybeans, the Pro Farmer crop tour’s estimate of Illinois pod counts was down 21 percent over last year (the Pro Farmer crop tour does not measure soybean yields, but instead averages the number of soybean pods in a 3-foot square area of land). By comparison, the USDA’s Aug. 1 estimate forecasted Illinois soybean yields at 37 bpa. Grete said he saw many soybean plants that had no pods on their bottom halves.

The Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour showed similar declines for Indiana earlier this week. Grete says the Crop Tour estimated Indiana’s corn harvest projected at around 113.3 bushels per acre--a drop of nearly 21 percent from last year. As in Illinois, those yield estimates were above figures put out by the USDA. The pod count for Indiana soybeans averaged 1,033, down 9.2 percent from last year.

August 15, 2012

All of Illinois Declared "Primary Disaster" Area

All counties in Illinois have been designated as "primary disaster areas" due to drought. That's after the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday added counties in northern Illinois.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the designations came at the request of Gov. Pat Quinn, and also because of a national drought monitor that shows lack of rain plaguing the entire state. All counties have been affected by drought for at least the past 8 weeks. The designations mean all Illinois farmers are eligible for emergency loans from the feds.

"Our farmers and ranchers around the country are a resilient bunch," Vilsack said. "While it's a good deal of stress, they're not daunted or overwhelmed by this challenge. They're going to get through it with the help of their friends and neighbors and the help of U-S-D-A and other federal agencies."

Vilsack is calling on the House of Representatives to finish work on the "Food Farm and Jobs bill" to help plan for the coming year:

"There's a lot of uncertainty about what the farm programs are actually going to be next year," he said.

For now, Vilsack said the federal government has exhausted virtually all immediate tools in drought assistance.

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