Farmers look to next year for more rain, better crops
By Jenette Sturges firstname.lastname@example.org December 22, 2012 5:58PM
Joe White, a farmer and Kane County Farm Bureau president, works on the engine of one of his tractors on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Like many Kane County farmers, White is hoping for a wet winter and spring to alleviate the effects of this year's drought. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
2012 — 28.03 inches (January
2011 — 45.53 inches
2010 — 41.06 inches
2009 — 51.03 inches
2008 — 50.46 inches
2012 — 115 bushels
2011 — 174
2010 — 169
2009 — 166
2008 — 183
Updated: January 24, 2013 6:33AM
This year, Fox Valley farmers are praying for a little snow.
“Some snow now would be beneficial, because there’s no frost on the ground,” said Joe White, a corn, soybean and wheat farmer, and the president of the Kane County Farm Bureau.
Although planting season is months away, the dry, parched ground could use all the moisture it can get to replenish the subsoil, where corn and soybeans stretch their roots in the middle of a long, dry summer, like the one the Fox Valley — and most of the Midwest – experienced in 2012.
Crop yields were down in Kane County by about 25 percent, White estimates, but it could have been much worse.
“You didn’t have to get very far north or south and you had yields that were 50 percent less than what you normally see,” White said.
In far southern Illinois, many farmers lost it all after months of extreme drought and high temperatures left corn and soybeans parched.
And that’s going to affect non-farmers at the grocery check-out stand for the next few years, White said.
“Producers of cattle weren’t able to get sufficient feed, but it takes about 2.5 years to get out from a baby calf to the grocery store,” he said.
With expensive feed, many ranchers have sent their herds to slaughter early, resulting in higher prices.
Milk and cheese also will increase in price as dairy farms struggle with higher feed prices, he said.
“As far as your cereals, your wheat, or soybeans, or oats, there’s such a small percentage of raw material that goes into that product that (the drought) shouldn’t affect it,” he said.
He said prices on cereals and other processed foods are affected more by energy prices and transportation costs than other factors.
Meanwhile, large swathes of land in Kane and Kendall counties remain in moderate drought; and while farmers said they were optimistic for next year, it’s still impossible to tell what the clouds have in store.
The northern half of Illinois has an equal chance of above- or below-normal precipitation, according to the Climate Prediction Center, which doesn’t exactly give farmers a crystal ball to gaze into regarding the upcoming planting season.
White said that neither he nor any of his fellow farmers have seriously started considering irrigation systems, nor is anyone planning to trade in the tractor for a sedan and an office job after just one bad year.
“We really haven’t had back-to-back drought years unless you back into the ’30s. I’m not anticipating a drought again,” he said.
And, White said, depending on Mother Nature is simply the nature of farming.
“It’s cyclical,” he said. “Farming is a game of averages. One year, you’ll have bumper crops, and the next year you won’t.”