JJC Modern Farmer - September 2022

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September 2022

COVER STORY: Pike growers find a new niche with pumpkins, Page 5 Farmer strives to keep the carbon in the ground, not in air, Page 3 Looking for future of driver-less vehicles? Head to a farm, Page 13

Special supplement to the



FARMER COMMITTED TO KEEPING CARBON IN GROUND .......................................................................3 PUMPKIN FARMERS HOPING TO GROW PIKE TOURISM............................................................................5 CHALLENGES EXIST BUT FARM EQUIPMENT SALES STRONG...............................................................7 SOYBEAN GROUP RELEASES CARBON AND DATA GUIDEBOOK.........................................................8 CORN GROWER COMPETITION PUSHING FOR HIGHER YIELDS ..............................................................9 STATE TO ACCEPT BIDS FOR AGRICULTURE LEASES ...............................................................................9 MORE THAN JUST BUZZ: INSECTS PLAY HUGE ROLE IN POLLINATING CROPS ................12 Jenna Maki/Provided

A variety of pumpkins are for sale at Maki Pumpkins in Summer Hill, where the Maki family planted 26 varieties of pumpkins and gourds.

IF YOU’RE TIRED OF WAITING FOR DRIVERLESS VEHICLES, HEAD TO A FARM ...13 CAN YOU PLANT TWO CROPS INSTEAD OF ONE? ...................................................................................14 HIKERS, FARMERS SHOULD SHOW CAUTION, NOT FEAR ABOUT SNAKES ....................................15 STUDY TRACKS PLANT PATHOGENS IN CROP-HARMING LEAFHOPPERS ........................16



Farmer committed to keeping carbon in ground, out of air By Dave Dawson RE P ORT E R

CHAPIN – John Nergenah says his wife, Lauren, calls him a soil nerd. Nergenah, who farms 1,500 acres in Morgan and Scott counties near Chapin, doesn't disagree. Over the past 12 years Nergenah has become an advocate of carbon farming. The object is to keep carbon dioxide in the soil rather than allowing it to release into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a significant contributor to air pollution. Achieving his goal of keeping carbon in the soil requires a different kind of farm management and processes than traditional farming. Besides being better for the environment, Nergenah said his work pays off as he sells carbon credits to industries that create pollution. "It was after the fact that we thought about selling carbon credits. We did it because we

were already doing it, and all we had to do to get money back was some paperwork," Nergenah said. "As years go by, it seems more apparent that every farmer's goal should be to maintain and capture as much carbon as possible," Nergenah said. "It's a natural fertilizer. Building organic matter is a long, hard process." Nergenah joined the CarbonNOW program and is paid through Locus Agriculture Solutions. "You have to do certain practices to qualify. If you're sequestering more than you would normally sequester, you can get paid more," Nergenah said. "One of the perks of the program is these are not arbitrary numbers but based on soil testing." Nergenah started farming with his dad, Roger, about 20 years ago with a corn and soybean rotation and has added wheat to the mix. Three

or four years ago, he took over the operation and manages the farm, though his dad still helps. Nergenah started his journey toward carbon farming when he planted cover crops in 2010. He went 100% no-till and 100% cover crops in 2016. "We plant a cover crop after the cash crop is harvested. We were having more erosion than we wanted and thought doing both was best for the terrain," Nergenah said. During corn harvest, a day or two after combining, Nergenah runs a drill to seed the cover crop. Nergenah doesn't till because breaking up the ground releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By not tilling, the decomposing cover crop keeps the carbon dioxide in the soil. "Between corn and beans, we use cereal rye because it gets big and adds carbon. We plant beans in the spring while rye is growing, then we

CARBON continues on A4 John Nergenah inspects the soil in one of his cornfields that is protected by a cover crop to help prevent carbon dioxide from releasing into the atmosphere.

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Photos by Dave Dawson/Journal-Courier

John Nergenah stands near his home in rural Chapin. Behind him is a retention pond and some of the soybeans he grows on his 1,500-acre farm using methods to keep carbon dioxide in the soil rather than allowing it to release into the atmosphere.

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John Nergenah inspects corn in one of the fields that he is getting ready to harvest. A day or two after combining, Nergenah will run a drill to seed the cover crop.

terminate the rye three to four weeks after the beans are planted," Nergenah said. "We spray it with Roundup to kill the rye. August and September are when it breaks down." Nergenah said when going from beans to corn, he uses cool season grasses, legumes, and brassicas as the cover crop. He sprays the cover crop to kill it before planting corn, which he typically does in the middle of May. "We are using a cornbean-wheat rotation now. We harvest wheat in July,

so we use two cover crops after wheat, including one in winter," Nergenah said. "As a result of these practices, we are using less nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. We've decreased nitrogen use by about 20 percent and use very little of the P and K (phosphorous and potassium)," Nergenah said. "Studies show 40% of phosphorous and potassium fertilizer is lost to wind erosion." Nergenah said he can't put a number on how much he's saving by not tilling and fertilizing less, he just knows it's better and he spends less time filling in eroded ditches

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John Nergenah inspects corn in one of the fields that he is getting ready to harvest. A day or two after combining, Nergenah will run a drill to seed the cover crop.

in the fall. He estimates he has more than 200 terraces installed, which further prevents erosion. He also saves money using the cover crops to feed his cattle. "The work is a little more intense in the fall because you are planting and harvesting. After November, I’m not tilling, but pushing cattle on to other acres," Nergenah said. "In the spring, the first thing we do is plant beans. April-June, we are planting, spraying and side dressing, which is applying (liquid) fertilizer into growing crops." Nergenah said he is often asked if the carbon capture program is good, while others ask why he sells carbon credits to a polluter to offset emissions. "Anything we can do to get farmers to practice no-till and use cover crops is better for everything in the long run," Nergenah said. "It helps companies stay in business here and not force them overseas. Is it a flawless system? No. But there is no flawless system." According to a news release from Locus, they have paid $1.2 million in carbon payments to Illinois farmers this year. A profile on Nergenah's farm shows he's been paid $9 per acre for 1,000 acres he has enrolled in the program, with the potential to earn an additional $3 per acre with soil testing done this fall. Nergenah said he often hears from others that the management of the carbon farming system must be harder because he must decide when to plant and when to kill. "There is not any more management involved, just different management," Nergenah said.



Pumpkin farmers hoping to grow Pike tourism By Angela Bauer L IF E STYL E S ED ITOR

PITTSFIELD — It’s not likely to rival Morton as the nation’s pumpkin capital anytime soon, but Pike County is hoping to grow a bit of agri-tourism along with a few farmers’ small pumpkin patches. “It seems like they all started last year,” said Gianni Vitale, owner of Vitale Bros. Pumpkin Patch in El Dara. “We didn’t talk to each other.” After Vitale and his family decided they wanted to grow a small patch of pumpkins, they soon realized “some other people had pumpkins, then some other people had pumpkins,” he said. Among those other peo-

ple are Jenna and Laura Maki of Maki Pumpkins in Summer Hill and Becky (Brosie) Pepper of Brosie Farm in Rockport. That’s not to say pumpkin farming in Pike County suddenly is cut-throat business. The Vitale, Maki and Pepper families all know one another and support one another’s efforts. “My son and (the Makis’) son are best friends — they’re 4 — so …” Vitale said. Brosie Farm in Rockport is a family farm that dates to 1923. Like the barn her grandfather built on the property and Pepper is working to restore, her pumpkin patch — somewhere in the ½- to 1-acre range — is part of Pepper’s constantly evolving plan.

“I’m trying to grow the business, get some family activities in that part of Pike County,” she said. “Family fun at an affordable price.” Future plans may involve pick-your-own blueberries or flowers. But, for now, it’s pumpkin time. “They can pick their own, if they’d like,” Pepper said of visitors to the farm. “We go ahead and pick some, too.” The farm has a few wagons decorated to hold prepicked pumpkins and Pepper is considering adding a small corn bin in which kids can dig and play. “I want to provide something affordable for families to do,” she said. “With three daughters, we were always looking for something we could go out and

do.” She also wants to give people a chance to get outside for a bit. “I’m in education,” Pepper said. “Kids don’t really have that chance to go out and run around and explore. (At Brosie Farm) they can take a hike, play in a creek.” Brosie Farm plans to be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays in October, from 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays in October and by appointment, with a flea market planned Oct. 8. Schedule updates are available at brosie_farm on Instagram and brosie.farm on Facebook. Maki Pumpkins doesn’t have quite the space of Brosie Farm, but it does have PUMPKINS continues on A6

Jenna Maki/Provided

Henry Maki, 9, and Charlie Maki, 4, stand amid a pumpkin display at Maki Pumpkins in Summer Hill. Their parents, Jenna and Laura Maki, said they don't have the space to offer a walk-through, you-pick pumpkin patch to visitors, but that didn't stop them from fulfilling their dream of growing pumpkins.



PUMPKINS From page A5

Gianni Vitale/Provided

Pumpkins from the family patch rest on the farmhouse porch at Vitale Bros. Pumpkin Patch in El Dara.

A Local Family Business Serving Local Family Farmers Since 1953 New BerlinBros. Pumpkin 217 488 3125 Visitors to Vitale Patch in El Dara can venture into the patch to pick their own pumpkin. Franklin Ashland Virginia


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lots of pumpkins — 26 varieties of pumpkins and gourds, according to Jenna Maki. “We are kind of more like a farmstand pumpkin place,” she said. “… We pick them and clean them up. We had dreamed about having pumpkins but don’t have the property (for a walk-through patch). We finally decided, ‘Let’s do a little farmstand and get our kids involved.” And, yes, Henry, 9; and Charlie, 4; are involved, from helping to pick out seeds to planting to harvesting. “My oldest son doesn’t like to be in the patch as much as my younger son, but he likes to be at the stand,” Maki said. Despite being unable to offer you-pick pumpkins, Maki Pumpkins does have a few fall-themed activities for those stopping by during pumpkin season. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays, while pumpkins last. Schedule updates are posted on the patch's Facebook page. “We do have an old barn, if people want to do photos,” Maki said. “And we’ve added a little corn pit for kids to play in.” Pumpkins are a new crop for the Maki family, but the idea of growing pumpkins is not new to Jenna Maki. “It’s something I’ve been interested in since I was a child,” she said. “Fall is my favorite season and fall and pumpkins go hand in hand.” She’s intrigued by the variety of pumpkins available, she said. “Even having 26 varieties, we don’t even touch all of the varieties out there,” she said. Along with pumpkins, Vitale Bros. offers Indian

corn and a gourd tunnel from which people can pick their own gourds, Vitale said. “There are some (pumpkins) that will be on display, already picked” and ready to purchase, he said. “We have about a half-acre people can’t really get access to. The ones up front are picktheir-own.” Visitors will have access to a small wagon and a pair of scissors — assuming there’s an adult on hand to use the scissors — for scouring the Vitales’ front patch for the perfect pumpkin, Vitale said. They’ll also be able to choose from the pre-picked selection, he said, noting the patch will be open weekends and by appointments. Vitale Bros., Maki Pumpkins and Brosie Farm agree they’ll offer pumpkins for sale as long as they have pumpkins to offer. “Last year we did until (Oct.) 31st, because we had so many of them,” Vitale said. “Even the day before (Halloween), people were coming out and buying pumpkins.” That’s good for the growers and for Pike County, said David Camphouse, executive director for Pike County Chamber of Commerce. “Having a handful of people (growing pumpkins and arranging fall-themed activities) is what’s going to draw people from Jacksonville and elsewhere to Pike County to visit,” Camphouse said. “We’re thrilled to have them.” The three patches’ owners acknowledge the hard work that goes into pumpkin farming, but they — and their kids — don't expect to tire of it anytime soon. “First thing when they wake up,” Vitale said of his 4- and 2-year-olds, “they want to see the pumpkins.”



Challenges exist, but farm equipment sales strong By Dave Dawson R E P O RTER

WINCHESTER – Implement dealerships are busy places these days. On a recent morning at Sloan Implement near Winchester, customers were talking to salesmen, buying parts, and browsing. In the shop, technicians were busy repairing tractors and combines. Store manager Doug Awe called it a typical day. "I think many are retaining older equipment," Awe said. "Some have been spending money on upgrades. But most are taking the good farm economy as a time to up-

grade with better equipment – such as the planters. Some of the equipment that is 30 or 40 years old, considered by some to be antiques, is bringing top dollar on the market." The only glitch in the equation is sales could be higher if manufacturers could build more equipment. "Sales are good, especially with farm income being strong," Kyle Schumacher, one of the owners of Beard Implement Co. in Ashland, said. "We're still going against the resistance of manufacturers being able to produce enough units. We are allocated equipment on what

we sell. We are a lot like car dealers in that regard." "Sales are extremely high because of farm commodity prices and farmer equity. We were poised for this because of commodity prices before the pandemic. The shortages caused by the pandemic accelerated it even more. We’re looking at the com-

ing year being strong again," Awe said. "Getting equipment has been challenging and we have had to adapt by doing pre-selling of equipment," Awe said. "It has required us to forecast our new and used equipment needs further out. If you have a labor shortage, computer chip shortage, it interrupts things."

Doug Awe (right), store manager at Sloan Implement near Winchester, talks with customer Jim Freeman, who farms near Bluffs.

Photos by Dave Dawson/Journal-Courier

Jacob Rohn, a technician in the service department at Sloan Implement near Winchester, works on an 8520 John Deere tractor in the shop.

Chad Sanders, a sales representative for Sievers Equipment Co. in Auburn, agreed. "The demand is there," Sanders said. "We are just having problems getting the equipment in that we have sold and are going to sell." "Combines, tractors have not slowed down.

Right now, I would say we are selling anything we can get our hands on," Sanders said. "If we have a tractor sitting on our lot, it'll last maybe three or four days. It doesn't take long. Whatever they think they need to replace, and it's here, they get it."

EQUIPMENT continues on A8

Aron Rebbe, a technician in the service department at Sloan Implement near Winchester, works on a piece of equipment in the shop.


EQUIPMENT From page A7 The COVID-19 outbreak caused a slight slump in the agricultural equipment market in 2020, according to a report prepared by Grand View Research. Restrictions imposed by governments caused temporary shutdowns of manufacturing facilities, leading to production delays. However, since government restrictions relaxed, the demand for agriculture equipment has experienced double-digit growth. "We have always done pre-selling, but it is now a necessity. We used to do it

for six months and now 12 months. Pricing can vary over those 12 months," Awe said. "We have had to get aggressive asking them to think ahead. The same day we are delivering something, we can also be talking about trading for another like it. That has been going on since 2020, accelerated in 2021 and will continue in 2022." Awe said suppliers have done an outstanding job of keeping pace, but it can be difficult to communicate why delays are happening and keeping customers informed. Sievers is taking a similar approach, according to Sanders. But sometimes it gets complicated.


"We are selling combines and tractors for fall of next year; trying to do that as we are looking 12 to 18 months down the road," Sanders said. For example, Sanders said, he sold a used tractor in the spring, but he had to wait until a new tractor came in to conclude the sale. There were two other used tractors involved in the deal, too. "So, if one guy pulls out, four sales are messed up," Sanders said. "We're doing the same with combines. It all hinges on the new one getting here." Schumacher said despite the challenges, sales are good and used values are strong. "Tractors have been

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strong the last two years. High horsepower tractors are the strongest in sales. We're starting to see smaller horsepower models coming in, but large horsepower continues to have high demand, low supply," Schumacher said. "Pricing trends have been increasing due to short supply. The main driving force is price of steel, cost of transportation and shortages of precision parts such as electronics and other components," Awe said. "I don't see that changing until the supply improves. We expect it to continue for now. But it has been better in 2022 than in years prior." Even with strong sales, a lot of farmers are hanging on to equipment longer. “Purchases are a little more calculated on what needs to be replaced first. Part sales are up, but so are part prices. Demand for parts is still good, especially in tillers and planters – which are most likely to be rebuilt,” Schu-

macher said. Used equipment demand is strong, Awe said, and in the case of tractors, stronger than the supply. "They're not sitting around very long. We end up seeking out tractors to keep inventory up and have the flexibility to have short-term rentals available – that is filling the gap when someone has a problem with a piece of equipment," Awe said. "If you buy a vehicle and it breaks down, you can rent a car. If your tractor goes down, you rely on your dealer for a short-term rental." Higher demand has also forced prices up over the past 18 months. "It's not the fault of any one producer, it's just the time we are living in and the cost of inflation. The cost of metal and materials are going up," Sanders said. "The cost of a new machine is up about 10 percent, which is a lot of money on a $500,000 machine. It just takes more to build and costs more to get it here. Everyone's

costs are going up." New equipment has seen significant price increases because of higher manufacturing costs, supply chain issues, trucking issues, and manufacturers not getting the components needed to build new units, Schumacher said. An increase in sales of new equipment creates more units in the area and is stressing parts and service departments. "We are aggressive about stocking and selling parts, and hiring new technicians. Sales in those departments are seeing the same kind of increases we are seeing in equipment sales. If sales of new drops off, we expect to see it escalate for used equipment and parts," Awe said. "Parts and service has been pretty good. New ones come in and then we have to get the trade-ins ready to sell," Sanders said. "We're shorthanded in our shop. We have hired a few guys. Getting there, but we need more help."

Soybean group releases carbon, data guidebook Farmers now have access to a new, go-to resource housing good data management practices thanks to a project funded by the Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program. The Carbon & Data Guidebook, which is available at ILSoyAdvisor.com, covers the basics of emerging carbon and ecosystem programs, their farm data needs, and how farmers can better position their farm operations for any program or precision ag initiative.

The importance of good data management is being accentuated due to the plethora of carbon and ecosystem programs becoming available in recent years. It’s becoming critical that famers take a harder look at how they are collecting, managing, and storing their farm data – whether they are pursuing a carbon or conservation program. “The Carbon & Data Guidebook is a resource growers can utilize to help organize their data for sale, whether it’s to a carbon program or for other value-

add situations requiring data. The Guidebook contains advice on file types, digital tools, and the types of practice data needed to enter a carbon or ecosystem service market,” agronomy programs manager Megan Miller said. “Looking at the future, these ecosystem service markets are among the first opportunities growers must sell their practice data. Getting your data in order now will allow you to take advantage of future opportunities.” The Journal-Courier Staff



Corn grower competition pushing for higher yields By Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree R E P O RT E R

A high yield in any product is a sign of success — or luck — for a farmer. It makes their livelihoods. It can also give them a sense of competition. The National Corn Growers Association yield competition has been challenging farmers to produce the best yield of the year in their state or country. The Hadden family has been growing corn for generations, with Dale Hadden growing for more than 30 years. "I typically do the entries for our family," Hadden said. "We enter multiple varieties." Between himself, his father and his brother, his family has about nine fields they could enter into the competition, although he will wait to see what the outcomes for the fields are before submitting the best.

"We'll probably have about three or four entires," Hadden said. When entering the contest, Hadden said farmers have to submit the farms they are looking at for the competition by August. Once they are ready to harvest, a third party supervisor confirm the collection, enter the numbers into the formula and finalize the entry. Hadden said once the calculations are done for his entries, he will submit the best ones. "If it's a good yield, I'll submit it," Hadden said. "Some years I will know we are off pace compared to other parts of the country, but I'll usually submit several." Hadden said 300 bushels an acre is a decent yield. Last year, Hadden said they took first place in the state for their category with 314 bushels. Each contest entry require detailed information about the field, including the type of tillage, chemical program, equipment

type, acreage and more. According to the National Corn Growers Association yield contest page. the contest looks at the yield of a particular field and compares it to others in the category to find which farmer has the largest yield. The organization claims the contest has "been organized to encourage the development of new, sustainable, and innovative management practices resulting in higher yields and to show the importance of using sound cultural practices in United States corn production." A contest plot must be CORN continues on A17

State to accept bids for agriculture leases The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will accept sealed bids this fall for about 40 agricultural lease contracts for crop years 2023-2026. The department uses agricultural leases as a tool to support wildlife populations and recreational opportunities at sites owned or managed by the agency. The leases developed under this program will promote ecologically sound agricultural practices to improve soil health, minimize soil erosion, improve water quality and reduce chemical im-

pacts to benefit wildlife populations and their habitats. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources sites with leases open for bid will be publicly announced on BidBuy, the state's e-procurement system. A non-mandatory vendor conference will be conducted for each open lease with details included in the public notice. All bidders must register with BidBuy to be eligible to enter into a contract with the state. To register, go to bidbuy.illinois.gov/bso/.

When asked for a NIGP code, enter 944-00 (Farming and Ranching) and 944-48 (Hay Farming). Other codes are 944-34 (Corn Farming), 944-76 (Soybean Farming), 944-38 (Crop Farming NEC and Grain Farming NEC). Once registered in BidBuy, prospective bidders will be notified by email when any agricultural lease bid openings are posted. Prospective bidders will need to download and print the necessary forms from the BidBuy website prior to the vendor conference.

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Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree/Journal-Courier

Dale Hadden inspects his corn fields. The Hadden family has about nine fields they could enter into this year's National Corn Growers Association yield contest.







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US asks farmers: Can you plant two crops instead of one? By Scott McFetridge AS S O C IATED P RE SS

There is only so much farmland in the United States, so when Russia's invasion of Ukraine last spring prompted worries

that people would go hungry as wheat remained stuck in blockaded ports, there was little U.S. farmers could do to meet the new demand. But that may be changing.

Photos by Nam Y. Huh/AP

Jeff O'Connor checks soybeans at his farm in Kankakee. A U.S. Department of Agriculture move to change crop insurance rules to encourage farmers to grow two crops in a single year instead of one. Usually this means planting winter wheat in the fall, harvesting in May or June and then planting soybeans.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituted new policies to encourage American farmers to begin growing two crops on one piece of land, one after the other, a practice known as double-cropping. By changing insurance rules to lessen the risk of growing two crops, the USDA hopes to significantly increase the amount of wheat that U.S. farmers could grow every year, lessening the reliance on big wheat producers like Ukraine and Russia and eliminating bottlenecks. The idea is an intriguing development from the Ukraine war that hasn't received widespread attention. As fall approaches, it's unclear how many farmers will actually try the new system, but some who already grow two crops say it's something farmers should consider.

"I think it's a great idea," said Illinois farmer Jeff O'Connor, who has double-cropped for years and hosted President Joe Biden at an event in May to promote efforts to increase food production. "How successful it will be, I don't know." Even if the effort is only moderately successful, agriculture groups are hoping for new ways of meeting a growing global demand for food while generating more profit for farmers amid high fertilizer and fuel costs. As Andrew Larson with the Illinois Soybean Association put it, "It removes some of the hurdles and provides a lot more flexibility." In 2020, the U.S. exported wheat valued at $6.3 billion. The U.S. along with Russia, Australia and Canada usually lead the world in wheat exports, with Ukraine typically ranked fifth, though

its shipments will drop this year due to the war. Double-cropping isn't new in parts of the South and southern Midwest, which have the key advantage of longer growing seasons. Those warmer temperatures let farmers squeeze in a fall planting of one crop — usually winter wheat — that is dormant over the winter and then grows and can be harvested in late spring, just as farmers plant a second crop — typically soybeans. The problem comes when cool weather delays the spring harvest of wheat, which in turn delays the planting of soybeans. And that's where the USDA's new effort could ease the risk of a costly planting backup. The USDA's Risk Management Agency would streamline crop insurance approvals for farmers planting a second crop in more than 1,500 counties where double-cropping seems viable. The agency also would work with crop insurers and farm groups to promote a greater availability of coverage in other counties. In announcing its effort, the USDA said it was

aiming to "stabilize food prices and feed Americans and the world amidst continuing challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and the invasion of Ukraine by Russia." The USDA didn't mention climate change, but the agency and other experts have long said warming temperatures will spur farmers to rethink what they grow and how. The new program is focused more on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is a leading supplier of wheat to people in Africa and the Middle East. After the invasion, wheat prices nearly doubled to over $12 a bushel, though since then prices have steadily dropped as supply concerns have eased, in part because of agreements that have allowed for the export of some Ukraine wheat. The USDA didn't respond to a request for details about how many farmers the agency hopes will begin double-cropping or how much U.S production could increase. DUAL continues on A15

Soybeans and wheat grow at Jeff O'Connor's farm in Kankakee.



Hikers, farmers should show caution, not fear about snakes By Ahmad Lathan T RIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

Illinois doesn't have a large population of venomous snakes, but there are a few and there are ways to deal with them should you cross paths with one. Illinois Department of Natural Resources specialist, Scott Ballard, said the types of venomous snakes commonly found in the metro-east area are not aggressive toward humans unless they are provoked. Ballard said there's no cause of fear — only caution. In the meantime, snakes serve a useful purpose. Snakes help control tick and mouse infestation. One snake will eat "a pillowcase full of mice each year," which is about 9 pounds worth, Ballard said. Rodents are the No. 1 carrier of ticks so less mice means a decrease in tickborne diseases such as lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Illinois is a large farming community and farm-

ers have issues with rodents destroying crops year round. Snakes are beneficial in this case due to the fact that they eliminate many of the rodent pests. Generally people can expect to see snakes during the warmer months once they've left their winter hibernation. But their first instinct is always to get away from a person, even venomous snakes. Ballard is out every week and he said he is lucky if he sees one venomous snake a week. He said copperheads are common in the metro-east but their fangs are so short that they can barely penetrate denim jeans. Ballard recommends hikers wear protective clothing including long leather boots instead of open toed shoes. Ballard has a few copperheads in captivity for programs. He says their venom is weak and may take two venomous bites to kill a mouse. Those who are allergic to bee venom are at risk to

more severe reactions because snake venom and bee venom share similar proteolytic enzymes, he warned. Nonvenomous snakes pose some degree of risk, too. Bites can cause infections and an allergic reaction so Ballard recommends that people treat every type of snake bite with caution. What you should know about Illinois' snake population: • There are 40 species of snakes common to Illinois. • Native nonvenomous snakes include the common garter snake (most common snake in Illinois), Dekay's brownsnake, common watersnake, and plains garter snake. • Illinois' venomous snake varieties include the copperhead (most found in the southern two-thirds of Illinois), cottonmouth water moccasin (only found in southern Illinois), timber rattlesnake, and eastern massasauga rattlesnake

Erin Donalson/Getty Images

Illinois is a large farming community and farmers have issues with rodents destroying crops year round. Snakes are beneficial in this case due to the fact that they eliminate many of the rodent pests.

DUAL From page A14 Farmers who doublecrop often have smaller crops, but two smaller crops would still be significantly larger than an individual crop. A study published in August by the University of Illinois and Ohio State University found that was certainly the case this year, as high wheat prices resulted in doublecropped land in southern Illinois bringing a projected $251 per acre return for wheat and soybeans, which is $81 higher than a stand-alone soybean crop. The double-crop benefit was less dramatic in other parts of the state and could be less if wheat prices drop. Mark Lehenbauer, who raises livestock and grows row crops near Palmyra, Missouri, said he's double-cropped for years and finds it reliably profitable. Still, he cautions that there is a years-long learning curve as farmers learn how to accomplish the

task of planting one crop just as they need to harvest another. And Lehenbauer acknowledged that many farmers may simply be reluctant to take on the added risks or extra workload. "There are a lot of extra steps in there," Lehenbauer said. "It adds some complexity." Ultimately, the biggest factor behind whether farmers begin growing an extra crop of wheat is what price they can get for the crop, said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food

and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri. Although prices have dropped from the peaks soon after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, they remain at the still profitable level of nearly $8 a bushel. "It really comes down to where wheat prices go in the future," he said. "Even with the drop in prices we've seen, wheat prices are pretty high so there should be a little more incentive for wheat double cropping in this next year than there has been."

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Jeff O'Connor checks soybeans at his farm.


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Study tracks plant pathogens in crop-harming leafhoppers By Diana Yates U NIV ERSITY O F ILLINOIS N EWS

Phytoplasmas are bacteria that can invade the vascular tissues of plants, causing many different crop diseases. While most studies of phytoplasmas begin by examining plants showing disease symptoms, a new analysis focuses on the tiny insects that carry the infectious bacteria from plant to plant. By extracting and testing DNA from archival leafhopper specimens collected in natural areas, the study identified new phytoplasma strains and found new associations between leafhoppers and phytoplasmas known to harm crop plants.

Reported in the journal Biology, the study is the first to look for phytoplasmas in insects from natural areas, said Illinois Natural History Survey postdoctoral researcher Valeria Trivellone, who led the research with INHS State Entomologist Christopher Dietrich. It also is the first to use a variety of molecular approaches to detect and identify phytoplasmas in leafhoppers. “We compared traditional molecular techniques with next-generation sequencing approaches, and we found that the newer techniques outperformed the traditional ones,” Trivellone said. These methods will allow researchers to target more regions of the

phytoplasma genomes to get a clearer picture of the different bacterial strains and how they damage plants, she said. “One thing that is really novel about this study is that we’ve focused on the vectors of disease, on the leafhoppers, and not on the plants,” Dietrich said. The standard approach of looking for phytoplasmas in plants is much more labor-intensive, requiring that scientists extract the DNA from a plant that appears to be diseased and checking for phytoplasmas, he said. “But even when you identify the phytoplasma, you don’t know what leafhopper or other vector transmitted it to the plant,” Dietrich said. “So researchers must go back

out into the field to collect all potential insect vectors. Then they do transmission experiments, where they let the leafhoppers feed on an infected plant and then put them on an uninfected plant to see if it catches the disease.” Because this research is laborious and slow, “we still don’t have a good idea of which insects are spreading most phytoplasmas between plants,” Dietrich said. “That really limits your ability to set up an effective management strategy.” For the new study, the researchers turned to leafhopper specimens in the INHS insect collection. Dietrich had collected many of these insects over a period of 25 years as part of his work classifying their genetic relatedness and evolution. The researchers exam-

ined 407 leafhopper species collected around the world in areas less disturbed by human development. The specimens came from North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. The team extracted total DNA from the specimens and processed each one, using both traditional and newer sequencing approaches. The latter are less costly and more informative than traditional methods, the researchers report. Of the insects sampled, 41 tested positive for phytoplasmas, and the researchers obtained usable phytoplasma sequence data from 23 leafhoppers. The phytoplasmas included those that cause a disease known as aster yellows, which inhibits photosynthesis and reduces the productivity of several

Fred Zwicky/University of Illinois News

Evolutionary biology researcher Valeria Trivellone (left) and Yanghui Cao, who specializes in the systematics of leafhoppers and bioinformatics, screened DNA samples from leafhoppers, looking for the presence of phytoplasmas, a type of bacteria that causes devastating diseases for various crops. Their work screening DNA samples from leafhoppers has found a surprisingly high prevalence of these bacteria in insect samples worldwide.

different crop plants. These phytoplasmas were found in several new species of leafhoppers never before identified as vectors of the disease. “These leafhoppers may transmit the phytoplasmas to wild plants in natural areas,” Trivellone said. The study found phytoplasmas in regions of the world where such diseases had not been reported and identified several new strains of bacteria. It also found previously unreported associations between some phytoplasmas and species of leafhopper. Scientists have no tools to target the bacteria in asymptomatic plants to prevent disease outbreaks, so controlling phytoplasmas involves the use of pesticides to kill the insect vectors. “Because the insecticides are only partially specific to the target insects, they kill a variety of beneficial insects as well, which is not sustainable,” Trivellone said. “We’re finding that there are lots of new phytoplasmas out there in nature that nobody’s ever seen before,” Dietrich said. “They don’t cause disease symptoms in the native plants they’ve associated with for maybe millions of years. They only start causing disease when they jump to a new host that has not been exposed to the phytoplasma before.” The new findings parallel those seen in emerging infectious diseases of humans originating in wildlife, Dietrich said. “This is why we need to look more broadly across nature and see what’s out there.”





From page A12

From page A9

some pollination work. Keeping pollinators around can have tangible benefits for farmers around the world. The Bayer paper cited a project from non-profit organization CropLife India where Indian onion and pomegranate farmers were taught responsible use of pesticide and practical beekeeping. The onion and pomegranate farmers saw profits increase 19% and 42%, respectively, which Bayer attributed to pollinator insects improving the quality and yield of their product, as well as cutting down on pesticide costs. In spite of their importance to agriculture, Johnson said populations of pollinator insects — as well as insects in general — were on the decline for a variety of reasons. He cited climate change, habitat loss, disease spreading among bees and the misuse of pesticides as factors. "We're trying to control

10 continuous acres of only one hybrid, according to the organization. Farmers enter based on the class/category of their field, which is based on the type of tillage and irrigation. Multiple entries can be made, although a member can only win one award, regardless of the number of entries. Farmer Marty Marr said he has entered several times in the past and plans to continue participating in the competition in the coming years. Marr said he hasn't won yet, but said he has been adapting to improve his yields each year. "We try new things, like a new combination of fertilizer, looking for the perfect recipe for a good yield," Marr said. "This competition stretch your ability to reach the upper yield levels." He said they are also varying their programs, looking at what has

Ben Singson/Journal-Courier

Despite their importance to agriculture, pollinator insects' existences are being threatened by things like irresponsible pesticide use and habitat destruction.

those pest insects, but an insecticide meant to kill insects will also affect pollinators," Johnson said. The 2005 book "Manage Insects On Your Farm" concurred with Johnson, saying that agricultural intensification, "characterized by large-scale, weedfree monocultures and the loss of non-cultivated land," took away habitats from wild pollinators. Monoculture systems also brought down the diversity of pollinator insects. Farmers can protect these insects by setting

aside space for pollinators and being judicious with the use of insecticides and fungicides, Johnson said. "Manage Insects On Your Farm" expands on this by suggesting farmers maintain a year-round population of bees, choosing plants that will maximize pollinator diversity and including flowering crops such as legumes and canola in crop rotations. Learning to care for and cater to pollinator insects can help farmers improve their product while also saving the environment.

Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree/Journal-Courier

Corn competition compares yields from across the country based on the class and category of the field.

worked in the past and what is working for other farmers. "The idea is to create a program ourselves or what's working for other farmers," Marr said. "We have to be innovative in what we are doing." Hadden said while winning the competition is a good push, his ultimate goal is produce the best product he can. He said he will often compare his yield to others in the same category to see what they are doing, looking at ways to adapt their processes to improve their production. After years, Hadden

said the family has found various things that work for them, such as the way the field is tilled. "We only use fields with patterned till," Hadden said. They will also vary how they apply chemicals, types and timing of the application to see what produces the best crop. Hadden said he'll look at new research and talk with others to see how changes they made helped or hindered the growth. "The biggest factor, though, is what Mother Nature gives us," Hadden said.

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VEHICLES From page A13 ready have GPS guides that handle steering and turning to ensure optimum plowing, seeding

and harvesting. They also use real-time streams of data to make changes if needed because of soil conditions, the amount of fertilizer applied or other factors. The autonomous trac-


tor will now let farmers hook up a plow behind a tractor, start the machine with a swipe of a smart phone and then leave it to rumble up and down a field on its own. The driverless tractors

are equipped with six pairs of cameras that work like human eyes and can provide a 360-degree image. When filtered through computer algorithms, the tractor is able to determine where it is in

the field and will abruptly stop if there is anything unfamiliar in its path. Farmers often grow crops on different parcels of land that are miles apart, so while the tractor plows in one field a farmer


can work at another, drive into town for supplies or spend time with their families at home. Given that less than 2% of Americans work on farms and rural populations have dwindled for decades, the autonomous tractors also are expected to help with chronic labor shortages. The shift to ever-more sophisticated tractors is part of a movement that emphasizes planting, fertilizing and harvesting during narrow windows of time when conditions are perfect. If new technology can help farmers complete a job when soil and air temperatures are just right ahead of approaching wet weather, for example, it can mean more plentiful crops months later. "If I don't get this field tilled today and it rains tonight, that could mean we don't get the field planted for another week and that has real cost implications in a lot of operations," said Ryan Berman, who works on agricultural technology issues at Iowa State University. "If you can move an extra 80 or 100 acres into that optimal window, that can be worth thousands of dollars every year, probably tens of thousands. Still, the tractor won't be for everyone. Ed Anderson, director of research for the Iowa Soybean Association, cited the substantial cost, and noted that some farmers prefer hands-on work rather than overseeing operations via a smartphone. Another industry giant, CNH Industrial, also is developing autonomous capabilities for its Case and New Holland tractors, and other companies are exploring using numerous smaller autonomous machines to handle other farm work.