Farmers across McHenry County have their tillers and tractors ready, as they wait for warm and dry enough conditions to begin planting crops and put behind them a long, harsh winter.
Grain farmer Harry Alten has spent the month fertilizing his 600-acre farm in Harvard for the planting season, while waiting for sunnier days to heat the soil.
Out near Woodstock, cool soils also are putting farmer Michele Aavang slightly behind planting schedule, while John Bartman has the advantage of Marengo’s drier and sandier soils as he readies to plant corn and beans this spring.
“We just have to wait for the right time. If it starts raining and snowing the next few weeks, then we will start worrying,” Alten said. “If the sun keeps shining, we will start planting.”
Whether it’s a frigid winter or summer drought, weather conditions throughout the year can dictate a farmer’s ability to produce a healthy crop. But the deep freeze that lasted all winter in McHenry County has caused cooler soil temperatures for farmers at a critical juncture.
As April concludes, farmers in the county are entering the traditional planting window to produce optimal crops. Farmers generally have from the end of April to mid-May to plant crops and give them enough time to harvest before fall, Bartman said.
“If you are planting corn in June, the problem is that in October you could have an early frost and may end up killing your crop,” said Bartman, a fifth-generation grain farmer. “The later you are, more stress is added to the plant that is growing out in the field.”
In Harvard, Alten is waiting for soil temperatures to reach between 55 and 60 degrees so he can start planting his corn and soybeans. Last year, he was planting corn seeds in early March, Alten said.
But the cooler weather this spring hasn’t yet worried Alten, who works with his brother on a smaller farm that requires less field work.
“It’s a little cold yet,” Alten said. “If you can get field corn in by the end of the April, you stand a good chance of having a good crop.”
Lloyd Nichols ranked this past winter as one of the harshest since he started Nichols Farm and Orchard in Marengo 36 years ago. Nichols and his family grow more than 1,000 fruits and vegetables at the orchard each year.
Despite a delayed bloom this spring, he stressed that it’s too early in the planting season to assess the damage done by the cold winter.
“It’s too early to see what happened yet. ... We definitely pushed the season back,” Nichols said. “We are looking at a relatively short growing season.”
The long winter at Willow Lea Stock Farm in Woodstock not only caused cooler soil temperatures but forced Aavang to spend more on heat and fuel.
But the planting window for Aavang’s corn and bean crops hasn’t closed this spring.
“It’s too soon to say,” she said. “We are just concentrating on getting the soil temperatures right and getting the field ready to start planting.”