BLOOMINGTON — Despite drier weather last year, McLean County farmers led the state and the nation in soybean production and came in second in corn production both in Illinois and nationally, according to recent government figures.

The county produced 14.3 million bushels of soybeans from 259,500 acres and 58.3 million bushels of corn from 365,500 acres, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

McLean County came in second for corn production to LaSalle County, which produced 60.2 million bushels of corn last year, according to USDA data.

A combination of both good soil and a large land area is the driving force behind McLean County’s ranking as a top producer in the nation, said Rodney Weinzierl, executive director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association. But less rainfall between June and August knocked McLean County off its usual No. 1 ranking, a spot it’s held for decades, said Weinzierl.

“Mother Nature made (2011) a little bit different for us,” Weinzierl said.

In 2010, McLean County produced 15.8 million bushels of soybeans and 60.5 million bushels of corn, according to USDA data.

Gerald Thompson, a McLean County corn and soybean grower, said his farm between Gibson City and Bloomington was among those hit by drought last year. As a result, overall production was affected, Thompson said.

Even with the lower yield figures, soybean and corn production drives much of the economic activity here, said Brian Lambert, agriculture program coordinator for the University of Illinois Extension office that serves McLean, Livingston and Woodford counties. Corn and soybean production across the three counties is estimated to generate more than $1 billion in revenue.

“That’s just corn and soybeans and it doesn’t include the rest of the farming and livestock,” Lambert said. “We (farming) are responsible for a large amount of the economic activity that happens in this part of the state.”

Corn and soybeans produced in Central Illinois are shipped across the state, the nation and even the world, Lambert said.

“Some of the McLean County soybeans can very well be in China by the end of the year,” Lambert said.

Livingston County ranked second in the state and nation for soybean production with 13.1 million bushels, and LaSalle County ranked third in the state with 12 million bushels produced last year.

Weinzierl said he’s optimistic that rainfall will improve this year by April, when most farmers begin planting.

If the milder weather continues through next month, Thompson said he will consider preparing the soil for planting earlier this year.

“We try to start by April 15,” Thompson said. “If the weather is permitting and conditions are right, we might start earlier.”

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