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BLOOMINGTON — This winter's deep freeze and heavy snow might not be a bad thing for local farmers, but it isn't ideal, either.

On the plus side, the below-zero temperatures can kill insects that harm crops. Farmers also benefit because thawed soil after a deep-freeze is easier to plant on, said John Hawkins, spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau. 

An ideal winter for farmers, includes about half the amount of snow seen this season and average winter temperatures, Hawkins said. More than 45 inches of snow has been recorded in areas of McLean County this winter, about double the average winter totals.

But those conditions can also cause the ground to take more time to thaw, which may cause delays in spring planting, he added. 

The summer's drought conditions will also be a concern as farmers begin spring planting, Hawkins said.

Even now severe drought conditions continue in a portion of Central Illinois-- DeWitt County, eastern Logan County, northern Macon County and northern Piatt County. Moderate drought conditions include areas from Bloomington to near Springfield, and east to Champaign, according to the National Weather Service.

“We never fully recovered from the drought last summer. Even though we've had floods, that water was more runoff that it was able to soak into the ground,” Hawkins said. “We're going to still need those spring showers to recharge the subsoil.”

Farmers in Central Illinois are hopeful that spring comes early this year, bringing with it rain and warmer temperatures. 

However, if the weather remains cold and the frost doesn't thaw in March or early April, farmers in Central Illinois may have to delay their spring planting, Hawkins said.

“We're probably going to be talking mid-April before we really get back in the field unless we have a big warm-up in late March,” he said.

Fred Grieder, a corn and soybean farmer near Carlock, hopes temperatures in the 50s or above will hit Central Illinois soon. It will take a couple days of those warmer temperatures to fully thaw the ground.

“Typically January and February are slow months for field operations. Usually we'll have a January thaw of some sort so we can get out and get some work done for a week or two. We certainly haven't had that this year,” he said. “But we're not really up against the wall yet. It's hard to get too shook up at this point.”

When weather conditions cause farmers to delay the start of planting past May 10, they begin to lose crop yields, said Ron Kindred, who farms corn and soybeans in Atlanta.

“If I had a crystal ball, I'd look at planting a little later than normal,” Kindred said, also an advisory director for the American Soybean Association. “But things change a lot here in Central Illinois and they change in a hurry.”

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