Jefferson County farmer Donnie Laird of Waltonville stayed positive last week even as he planned to chop down part of his corn crop to supplement a dwindling hay supply.
“Our philosophy is to be optimistic. It could be worse. You just got to move on,” Laird told FarmWeek.
Laird, who farms in partnership with his father, Jim, anticipated receiving questions about the drought when he hosts Gov. Pat Quinn today (Monday) on a farm visit. The governor and other state officials were expected to see first-hand the drought’s severity on the Lairds’ 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat.
“The situation is dire in many parts of the state, especially in Southern Illinois,” said Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson. “I’m pleased the governor accepted our invitation to visit a farm that is feeling the impacts of the drought on both crops and livestock.”
“Providing the governor with a first-hand look will reinforce the significance of what is happening to this year’s crop,” added Nelson.
Pasture has suffered along with the crop on the Laird farm. The Lairds have been feeding their winter hay supplies for a month after their 200 pasture acres couldn’t support their 130-head cow-calf herd. Laird estimated he would need to chop 70 or more acres of corn to supplement the cattle feed.
“Hay is extremely short, and prices are up significantly,” said Laird, a Jefferson County Farm Bureau board member.
The potential for high, even toxic, nitrate levels in the chopped corn is another concern. Laird planned to take corn samples to the state’s Centralia Animal Disease Laboratory for nitrate testing.
The lab’s director, Dr. Gene Niles, said the lab has received many corn samples for nitrate testing.
The previous week, the lab tested 90 samples for nitrate levels. “As long as the drought continues, this (testing) will increase,” Niles told FarmWeek.
“We’re finding some (nitrate levels are) sky high,” he said. Corn with levels that high cannot be fed.
Of the test results he received last Monday (July 9), five samples were safe for feeding, 18 samples could be fed under limited conditions, and one was not safe to be fed under any circumstance, according to Niles.
The Centralia lab plans to continue providing testing services through Aug. 15 before it closes Aug. 31 as part of a budget-cutting measure. “As long as we’re here, we’ll sure try to provide as good a service as we can,” Niles said.
Just as green corn may look safe to feed, looks also are deceiving on the corn’s yield potential. Laird said he wants his visitors to see there are no kernels on the ears, despite the plants’ appearance.
The outlook for his soybean crop? “That’s going to be tough. We’re not sure if they’re going to drop the pods. It’s pretty early to tell,” he said.
Laird noted the drought impact will be felt by agribusinesses and others in rural communities. “It’s going to be tough on everybody,” he said.
“You just got to move on. We have to put this year behind us and move on,” he said. “Farmers are resilient, and we’ll find a way to make it.”