BLOOMINGTON — As the grain department manager for Evergreen FS, Steve Dennis has seen a lot of farmers sweat out the harvest season, wondering if they were going to get their crops in on time with high enough yields to make a profit.
This year, Dennis has talked to his share of nervous farmers, anxious to get the crops out of the fields but frustrated by a soggy fall.
“We are a little bit behind because we got about a two- to two-and-a-half-week later start than normal,” he said. “It seemed like the crop matured rather slowly, probably because of a cooler-than-average August.”
Central Illinois farmers aren’t the only ones behind. As a result, Gov. Bruce Rauner declared a statewide harvest emergency to assist farmers and grain handlers, allowing trucks hauling agricultural commodities on state routes (excluding interstates) to exceed their permitted gross vehicle weight limits by 10 percent.
“Illinois is home to 72,000 farms on 26.7 million acres, and we are among the top three corn producers in the nation,” Rauner said while visiting Stewart Farms in Yorkville on Sunday afternoon. “Moving corn and other crops in a timely and efficient manner affects the bottom line of hardworking farmers. This declaration is an appropriate response to an urgent need.”
The declaration issued Sunday is in effect for 45 days.
Local authorities also can waive the weight requirement on their roads.
“The 2017 harvest is taking longer than usual,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. “Erratic weather is a contributing factor.
"Further, for the fourth straight year, farm income is expected to be near or below break-even. Permitting farmers and truck drivers to haul larger than usual loads of grain will speed the process in getting harvested crops from field to grain elevator to final destination.”
According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 83 percent of Illinois corn was harvested, which was 11 percentage points behind the prior year and eight percentage points behind the five-year average. The Illinois soybean harvest was at 92 percent Sunday, two percentage points behind the prior year and the five-year average.
The harvests in the northwest, northeast and east regions are especially hard hit. Harvesters of a variety of crops made up ground toward the end of October, but early delays still are causing backups in the transportation chain.
“This designation will certainly assist the farmers and the crops are actually turning in better yields than expected, and that in turn, creates a little bigger workload,” Dennis said.
“When you start a couple of weeks later, that pushes the tail end back," Dennis said. "One week in the early harvest is worth about three weeks at the end of harvest because of the wet, cool conditions you are likely to have.”
Travis Barnes, who farms near Chenoa, said the designation will help farmers across the state, especially those with concerns about low yields.
“Someone asked me yesterday why there was still so much corn still in the fields and I told them it was the same reason why there are still so many leaves left on the trees,” he said. “Mother Nature has had a real impact on the harvest season this year, even though it may not be noticeable to everyone.
"When you don’t have extreme flooding or temperature changes, most people don’t pay much attention. But, when your combine sits idle for a week, you notice those things.”