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BLOOMINGTON - A short week ago, J.C. Zimmerman walked through knee-high corn that was rolling up in the afternoon under heat stress.

Then the rains came and temperature dipped over the weekend. His corn grew around a foot, maybe more. It's now above the waist, some stalks reaching chest height, said Zimmerman, a corn and soybean farmer from Say-brook.

"Sunday afternoon, we had a really nice shower. It just came straight down. There's been no runoff. It's staying in the field," said Zimmerman, who recorded 2.2 inches of rainfall at his farm. "By (July) Fourth, it probably will be over head high."

A slim 2 inches of rain was recorded this month at the Central Illinois Regional Airport, though other parts of the area experienced heavier rains last weekend alone, according to the National Weather Service in Lincoln. Central Illinois remains at least an inch below the June average, said NWS meteorologist Chuck Schaffer.

"We've got chances of rain going (Wednesday) and Thursday morning. There is a chance of some heavy rains, so we could easily make up that gap by the end of the month," Schaffer said.

The weather service launched a new online weather-tracking service this week called "Weather Story," avail-able at The Web page, updated 8 a.m. daily, highlights the day's most significant weather feature. Farmers are paying attention.

About 69 percent of the state's corn crop is in good or excellent shape, up from 56 percent last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Zimmerman said the weekend rainfall helped his crops catch up to last year's levels.

"We're about where we were last year," he said.

Last year, McLean County tallied yields above both state and national averages, according to a report released in February by the Illinois Agriculture Statistics Service.

The county produced an average of 182 bushels of corn per acre, an increase of 15 percent from 2005, the stat service reported.

Zimmerman expects another good year but remains cautiously optimistic.

"We're still going to need some timely rains in July when the corn's pollinating and in August, when beans are starting to pod," he said.

Meanwhile, a whole new set of worries are starting to grow, as Japanese beetles have taken flight for the season.

They've already covered Zimmerman's rose bushes.

They will pester home gardeners, feeding on roses, crabapples, flowering cherries, Japanese maples, lindens, elms, viburnums, Virginia creepers, grapes and many other trees and bushes, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

But they could bother farmers, too.

Zimmerman plans to spray insecticides to keep the beetles from eating soybean leaves and corn silks.

"This will be the first time I've ever had to do anything with them," he said.


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