Central Illinois farmers are taking advantage of warm September weather to get a big corn crop out of the field. Some farmers are already seeing yields of 20 bushels or more an acre over last year. With dry weather in the forecast, look for farmers to be harvesting over the next several weeks throughout the region

Milton Smith has been farming a long time — more than 30 years — but this year’s corn crop may be his best.


 


That estimate is based on an early review of 120 of his best acres in Princeville. "I think we’re over 200 bushels an acre," said Smith, president of the Peoria County Farm Bureau.


 


Another farmer, Mike Schachtrup, said he’s heard of yields ranging from 220 to 230 bushels an acre in some Peoria County fields. "I’ve even heard of reports of farmers getting 200 bushels an acre off of timber soil," he said, referring to a soil type that usually produces less than prime ground.


 


In a year when growing ethanol demands pushed corn prices and acres higher, hopes are also running high.


 


"From farmers I’ve talked to, it looks like a great year for corn in Peoria County," said Patrick Kirchhofer, manager of the Peoria County Farm Bureau.


 


It was a case of the right combination of sun and rain, he said. "We had the hot weather and then some nice rain through August," said Kirchhofer, noting that central Illinois missed out on most of the spot showers that crossed the state last year.


 


Look for harvest to occupy area farmers over the next three to four weeks, he said. "It’s mainly corn now but farmers will be working on beans before too long," said Kirchhofer.


 


Corn harvest will occur around the country for the next several weeks, he said. The 2007 U.S. corn crop, forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 13.3 billion bushels, would be 26 percent larger than last year.


 


In Illinois the average per-acre yield is expected to equal the 2004 record of 180 bushels, said University of Illinois Extension marketing specialist Darrel Good.


 


Things also look good to Tim Foster, a farmer from Elmwood who expect to send much of his corn crop to the new ethanol plant set to open later this month in Canton.


 


"We’ve just been sampling fields. We haven’t pushed real hard but yields look to be above average. It looks like we’ll get 20 bushels (an acre) more than we had hoped for," he said.


 


Brimfield farmer Rod Stahl said he had harvested 20 to 25 percent of his corn crop with "very good yields."


 


"That was corn we planted in April. We’ll have to see what the May corn looks like," he said.


 


While hopes are high in Peoria County, not every area fared as well, said Schachtrup, who farms about 5,000 acres with his brothers in Peoria, Tazewell, Knox and Warren counties.


 


"In Tazewell County, we’ve seen yields around 185 to 190 bushels an acre and they didn’t really get much rain," he said.


 


But Schachtrup has also gotten a first-hand look at storm-damaged fields in the Knox County area. "Harvesting (downed corn) is really going to slow me up. It will add two weeks of work," he said.


 


A late-August wind storm cut a swath four to five miles wide from Monmouth to Toulon, knocking down a lot of "excellent corn," he said.


 


Harvesting downed corn is a priority for farmers. "It’s advantageous to go after the downed stalks before they deteriorate," said Stahl, who encountered downed corn near Wyoming.


 


Meanwhile, warm weather in September assists farmers who can leave corn in the field to dry out naturally. "That will save us money normally used for drying," said Schachtrup.


 


Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com.