Agri-business story

Area farmers have found a new way to increase corn production without having to plant more corn.

Aerial-sprayed fungicide.

"Based on research done in the last two or three years, we've found that these fungicides can really help growers," said Lincoln Ag Center's Rick Freed. "It kills a fungus known as gray leaf spot that can really hurt our corn hybrids.
"By applying these fungicides, we can keep gray leaf spot under control. Some reearch shows that there can be anywhere from a 30- to 50-bushel advantage by applying it.

"I work with growers that are having the fungicide sprayed. I deliver it to area applicators."

The applicator in this neck of the woods is Holzwarth's Aerial Spraying. Owner Chuck Holzwarth has been flying out of Logan County Airport since 1994, and in years past, has been the area's go-to-guy for insecticide spraying.

Besides the difference in what he's spraying, Holzwarth this year has eight planes based in Lincoln, nearly double what he's had.

"We also fly out of Virden and Kilbourne, but right now, most of our work is being done flying out of Lincoln," said Holzwarth. "(Our) planes here ... take off and land about every 90 minutes."

Holzwarth's Lincoln location serves the largest area among his three bases, covering Tazewell, DeWitt, McLean, Mason, Sangamon, Menard, Christian and Logan counties.
Holzwarth owns three of the planes, while contract pilots fly 13 others. Holzwarth meets the pilots through conventions and networking.

The crop dusters have been flying all day, every day, for several weeks. Flights generally begin in late morning and continue until the sun goes down. Holzwarth's crew was even hard at work over the Fourth of July holiday.

The fungicide applications and more corn being planted account for the increased flights out of Logan County Airport. More corn is being grown locally, thanks to the rapidly expanding ethanol industry.

"The ethanol plants that are sprouting up all over the country are going to require production from the area farmers," said Holzwarth. "That's how it's going to have to happen if we ever want to get off of our dependence on foreign oil. So renewable fuel is really driving us."

The increased demand for corn "is affecting all of our businesses, not just his," said Freed. "Our farmers are planting more corn, which means more fertilizer and more nitrogen.

"Right now, in Logan County, we're assuming that these ethanol plants in Hartsburg and Delavan are going up, but nobody's broken ground yet. We're hoping that can be a benefit to us. Along with that, we're hoping we can keep the corn price in the upper $2 to mid $3 range."

Recent weather conditions also have increased demand for fungicide spraying services like Holzwarth's.

"So many acres have needed treatment this year," said Holzwarth. "It's because of the early rain, the humid nights and the foggy mornings. That's the perfect breeding ground for disease in corn."