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HEYWORTH -- Farmer Jonathan Scheets didn't hit the panic button two weeks ago when cool, rainy weather basically stalled corn planting progress across Central Illinois.

Scheets, whose family farms near Heyworth, Bloomington and Cooksville, knows he got spoiled last spring, when ideal weather put 85 percent of the state's corn crop in the ground by May 2 -- an exceptionally fast start.

But when things finally dried out last week, he jumped at the window. Scheets has been out planting "hot and heavy" since Friday morning, he said, working the fields till 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on some nights.

"By day's end, we'll be about 75 percent done (with corn)," Scheets said midday Tuesday. "A couple more days, we'll just about have it whipped."

Only one-third of Illinois' corn was planted as of Sunday, about half of the five-year average for that day but still a nice jump from the week before, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. And the last few days of dry, warmer weather has seeded optimism among some farmers that they have turned a corner on the 2011 corn crop.

With temperatures near 90 degrees Tuesday in McLean County, soil temperatures in the area are reportedly 70 degrees and above -- "good, prime conditions to get corn in the ground," said Howard Brown, manager of agronomy services for Growmark, a Bloomington-based agricultural cooperative.

"We're watching the calendar," he said, "but there's no reason to call the alarms and panic over this, because we still have an opportunity to get in a good crop."

The latest USDA crop report showed "tremendous progress" across the western Corn Belt, with Iowa going from just 8 percent planted to 69 percent in a week, said Brian Basting, commodity market analyst at Advance Trading in Bloomington.

As a result, the price of corn -- which hit $7.88 last month -- for July delivery fell slightly to settle at $7.07 a bushel Tuesday. Basting said that reflected "some concern being alleviated about the crop being planted late." (Planting later cuts into the number of warm growing days, potentially reducing yield during harvest.)

But Basting noted ongoing rain delays in the eastern Corn Belt; Indiana is only 4 percent planted on corn, up from 2 percent a week ago. And another USDA report on global crop supply and demand due out Wednesday could drive up commodity prices in the market even further.

"By no means are we out of the woods yet on the 2011 crop," Basting said.

Doug Martin of Mount Pulaski said he expects to wrap up corn this week and switch over to soybeans as soon as he can. Illinois' bean crop was only 2 percent planted by Sunday; last year, it was 30 percent completed by that time.

The ideal time to wrap up corn is May 10-15, he said, but the end of May is when you "really start losing yield potential," said Martin, whose Martin Family Farms operates in Logan, Sangamon, DeWitt and Macon counties.

His operation was busy last weekend, Martin said, and he wasn't alone.

"I think there was a lot of 'farm widows' for Mother's Day," he said. "You looked around you, and all you can see is tractors. It was the first time all year you could see just about everybody was out."

Reporter Ryan Denham can be reached at twitter.com/ryanpantagraph

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