CLINTON — When warm weather finally arrived this week, Central Illinois farmers took notice.
“Most of the guys are ready to go,” said Thomas Wargel, an accredited farm manager and owner of Black Prairie Ag Services Inc. in Clinton. “The standard conversations I am having with farmers indicate that they are eager and anxious to get in the fields.”
The target date for planting is normally around April 21, Wargel said, and so nobody is in a panic yet. But the long, cold, wet spring so far had farmers starting to get a little nervous.
“Everybody gets anxious,” said Terry Ferguson, who farms in rural Clinton. “But it’s hard to get excited when it snows every four or five days. (Thursday) is really the first day we have had a chance to have any form of spring fever.”
On Thursday, the thermometer reached 75 degrees in Central Illinois, the first time since mid-October the temperature had reached at least 70 degrees.
Mike Orso, the director of news and communication for the Illinois Farm Bureau, based in Bloomington, agreed that farmers are getting anxious to start planting. A native of Crystal Lake, he said it all depends upon where you live.
“Illinois is a long state,” he said. “So farmers in northern Illinois haven’t even started to worry yet because they just aren’t used to being in the fields early.”
But, farmers in southern Illinois are, and on a trip to St. Louis earlier this week, Ferguson noticed the fields were empty.
“I didn’t see one soul in the field, and that is unusual for those in the southern part of the state,” he said.
For the first portion of April, temperatures in Central Illinois averaged 10 to 20 degrees below normal, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln.
The coldest temperatures were on the morning of April 2, following snow that fell the day before on Easter Sunday. The NWS office reported a temperature of 1 degree below zero in Lincoln, and a reporting station in Normal recorded a reading of 5 degrees. In Decatur, it was 18 degrees at daybreak.
Snowfall totals have been unusually high for April as well. Lincoln reported 7.1 inches of snow so far this month. The record of 7.8 inches was set in 1920.
“If this winter would ever end, I would love to get in the fields,” said Bob Goodlick, who farms near LeRoy. “It just sounds like it could go on forever.”
Even though Thursday was the warmest day of the year so far, Eric Laufenberg, a meteorologist with the NWS, said spring isn’t here to stay for good just yet. Cooler temperatures will return, and there is even a chance of snow showers over the weekend.
Cold temperatures and low soil temperatures are only part of the problem farmers are facing before returning to the fields. Most fields remain saturated and more rain is on the way.
Strong to severe storms are possible Friday night as a strong weather system moves through the area, Laufenberg said.
“That will bring another two or three days before we can even think about getting any work done,” Ferguson said.
The average daily temperatures for mid-April are around 61 degrees, but the afternoon highs on Sunday and Monday are expected to be near 45 degrees. It could be another week before temperatures break the 60-degree mark again, Laufenberg added.
Soil temperatures may remain a concern, Wargel said.
“Nobody wants to put a $400 bag of seed corn into the ground if the soil temperatures aren’t warm enough to sustain growth,” he said. “Corn, in particular, does not do well because it can’t get oxygen. Farmers realize that they only want to plant once and do it right.”
Gene Malone, who farms near Maroa, said he is among those getting anxious.
“I’m not nervous, but a farmer always wants to get the planting done before something goes wrong,” he said. “We’ve got time. I’m not in a rush. But, I do want to get started.”