Harvest still not over for DeKalb County farmers

DeKalb County’s agricultural, harvest woes could continue into 2020

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DeKALB – Farmers are used to hard work, but 2019 has provided more of a challenge than years past, according to some local agricultural workers.

John Frieders of Sandwich got a late start harvesting in the fall and blames the precipitation.

“With all the rain, it’s been very challenging,” Frieders said. “The moisture content of the crops is really high. We had to dry a lot of the grain. It took a long time to do that.”

Evan Quinn, a grain originator and grain merchandiser for FS Grain in Sycamore, said the corn needs to be dry, with a moisture content of about 15%, so it can be stored for long periods of time.

“We’ve seen this year anywhere between 20% to 35%,” he said.

Frieders said it’s been a struggle to farm all year, beginning with the wet spring and now, in late December, there still are crops in the field.

The spring rain – and for one weekend in late April, the snow – delayed the planting season. This year had one of the wettest growing seasons in northern Illinois since 1895.

The wet weather has led to a chain reaction of difficulties for area farmers.

DeKalb County Farm Bureau Director of Information Mariam Wassmann said wet soil leads to soil compaction. Soil compaction is when the equipment presses down on the soil and is harder to avoid with the softer soil the rain created. It also can affect the yield.

“The yields were reduced in the compacted areas,” Wassmann said. “They’ll see a yield loss where they tore up the ends of the fields. They’re not getting as good a crop as the rest of the field that didn’t get torn up.”

She said in a normal year, farmers can wait for the soil to dry, but this year has made that difficult.

“The farmers are at that point where they’ve got to get [the crops] out,” Wassmann said.

Wassmann said the trucks used to haul grain could not go into the fields because they’ve been drenched in rain. Instead the trucks were loading the grain in the road.

“If they put the equipment in the fields, it could get stuck,” she said.

She said the hope is to have a normal year in 2020 where farmers can plant in April and May, compared with 2019 when they were planting in June.

Lower yields compounded with the ongoing trade disputes could affect prices down the line, but Wassmann said she does not know what the prices will be like in 2020.

“The whole trade situation hasn’t been resolved yet,” she said. “There’s an uncertainty with prices and with trade. There’s a lot of uncertainty as we go into the new year.”

Then there is the fact that the harvest isn’t completed yet.

Quinn said he expects the harvest to drag into 2020, and the weather will continue to make harvesting worse for farmers, which will further delay their work.

“Guys will have to leave things in the field until spring time,” Quinn said. “Unfortunately their backs are against the wall; they don’t have a choice.”

Drying the grain can add up in both money and time.

Quinn said the system for FS Grain, which buys crops from farmers, has been backlogged because of the constant use of the dryer to evaporate the moisture.

“It slows things down,” Quinn said. “It forces longer days.”

He said he's been awake at 1 a.m. to dry corn and the operation goes
24 hours. The weather isn't helping.

“We may be dormant for a few days [in rainy conditions], but then on that fifth day we see a rush of trucks,” he said. “We get more corn on that day than on the previous four days.”

He said the rushes slow down business, which affects the customers.

“I hate to slow the farmers down,” Quinn said. “We’re trying to dry as fast as we can. We’re all in this together this fall.”

Frieders said he hopes things get back to normal and he’s optimistic about 2020.

“At this point, we have every expectation it’ll be a normal growing season next year,” Frieders said.

However, at this point, he said, there isn’t much one can do.

“You’re at the mercy of the weather,” Frieders said. “You try to be prepared so when you get the opportunity to plant, you plant as fast as you can and get the crop in the ground, which is what everyone did this year.”