By BEN ORNER
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Production of Illinois’ two most valuable crops fell by roughly one-fifth last year, according to final crop yield numbers released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Corn and soybean growers saw production drop 18.6 percent and 20.4 percent respectively compared to 2018.
Farmers harvested just over 1.8 billion bushels of corn, down from more than 2.2 billion the year before. Soybean production decreased from around 667 million bushels to just over 532 million.
2019 was the worst year for corn since 2012, when farmers produced about 1.3 billion bushels. Soybean production had its worst year since 2013, which saw 461 million bushels.
Yield per acre was down 14 percent for corn at 180 bushels and 15 percent for soybeans at 54 bushels. That’s the lowest for corn since 2015 and the lowest for soybeans since 2013.
Wetter-than-normal planting and growing conditions are to blame for last year’s stunted production, said Mike Doherty, senior economist at the Illinois Farm Bureau in Bloomington.
“We had the latest-planted corn crop at least in my history of 30 years as an ag economist here” because of record-breaking spring rain, Doherty said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
January through June was the wettest first six months on record in Illinois, according to the state climatologist’s office.
In April, the month when farmers begin to plant corn and soybeans, less than a week was suitable for planting. Illinois then saw its third-wettest May and wettest June in state history, forcing many farmers to plant most of their crop in the summer.
“Just about every time these farmers were turning around, they were being hammered with the worst field conditions that they had seen,” Doherty said.
Record spring rain and periods of untimely rain during the fall harvest season forced late harvests across the state. Only 93 percent of Illinois’ corn crop was harvested by the end of November, according to USDA figures, the lowest total in a decade.
“It was probably one of the most stressful growing seasons that most farmers can probably remember,” said state Rep. Dan Swanson, R-Alpha.
Swanson grows about 1,600 acres of corn and soybeans on his farm in western Illinois. He has yet to calculate his yields but predicts “considerably less than what we wanted or needed.”
In 2018, 100 percent of Illinois’ corn and soybeans were harvested by late November, according to the USDA. Swanson said he knows of some farmers in his district who still have crops yet to harvest.
Despite the difficult year, Illinois farmers were able to harvest 97 percent of corn acres planted and 99 of soybean acres. Illinois also continues to be a national leader in those two crops, producing the most soybeans of any state and the second-most corn, behind Iowa.
Nationally, soybean yields were down 20 percent from 2018. The top 16 soybean-producing states saw production drop between 8 percent in Kansas and 42 percent in South Dakota. Only Delaware, North Carolina and Pennsylvania saw increases.
Corn yields dropped only 5 percent nationally. A number of top-growing states, however, saw significantly lower totals, including Minnesota, Indiana and South Dakota.
The low yields reported across the country were not as bad as experts had predicted, Doherty said. He says government assistance like crop insurance programs and trade aid payments helped cushion the blow for farmers.
“Given the yield numbers we had in Illinois, we would have had particularly some counties where the entire county’s economy would have been a disaster,” he said.
List of certain Illinois crops and their 2019 yields, compared to 2018:
Corn: 1,846,000,000 bushels; 18.6% drop
Soybeans: 532,440,000 bushels; 20.4% drop
Hay: 1,140 tons; 12.91% drop
Wheat: 36,850 bushels; 0.3% drop
Oat: 650 bushels; 68.67% drop
Illinois numbers for other popular crops, such as sorghum and potatoes, were not included in the USDA’s report.