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Rain puts Illinois farmers weeks behind

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- It takes midsummer sunshine to grow a good soybean crop and hot days to grow bountiful ears of corn. But it must be followed by dry fall weather for a successful harvest. And that means Rock River Valley farmers have missed out....

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- It takes midsummer sunshine to grow a good soybean crop and hot days to grow bountiful ears of corn.

But it must be followed by dry fall weather for a successful harvest. And that means Rock River Valley farmers have missed out.

In fact, Illinois had its second-wettest October since 1895, and Rockford recorded just one sunny day the entire month, according to the Illinois State Water Survey. Statewide average rainfall was 8.9 inches, 6 inches above normal. The wettest October was in 1941 when the state measured 9.2 inches of rain.

"We didn't get any of the sun or heat during the summer," second-year farmer Mark Shipton said last week as he guided the family's John Deere combine through a sun-drenched soybean field in rural Loves Park. "Now we're three to four weeks behind in the harvest. Our goal is to be done by Thanksgiving, but this year we'll be lucky to have it all done by Christmas."

The forecast finally might be in farmers' favor.

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"It will be warm and dry all through the week thanks to el Nino," WREX-13 chief meteorologist Eric Sorensen said. "There are some days with a 12 or 13 percent chance of rain but that's slim. Temperatures will be in the mid-50s to low 60s."

The wet spring also delayed corn and soybean planting while a cool summer slowed their development, state climatologist Jim Angel said.

With the sun popping out last week, most farmers were making headway on the bean harvest.

Shipton, 31, formerly a self-employed trim carpenter, said it takes about eight good weeks of weather to harvest the 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans. The farm, in the family since the mid-1800s, is owned by his father-in-law, John Reid.

"We do the beans first because they draw out moisture overnight and it takes until 10 or 11 a.m. before they dry out enough to harvest," Shipton said. "On a sunny day like this we can go until dark or even 8 or 9 if the conditions are dry enough. The corn harvest can go pretty much 24/7 so it's best to get the beans done first."

The improved weather means some long but welcome work days with 16 hours being common.

Reid, 54, and a farmer his whole life, is worried about the moisture content of his corn to be harvested after the beans. He hopes the recent dry spell will continue so that some moisture is taken out before harvest.

"In some of the hand-sampling, we've seen a moisture content as high as 30 (percent) to 35 percent; it's very wet," he said. "Since I dry my corn at home instead of an elevator, I hope that I can lower that cost a little."

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For all associated with farming, the fall days are going to be long.

"We'll be open seven days a week and try to be here whenever farmers need us," said Central Grain manager Dan Mickey in Belvidere. "We've been taking in 60,000 to 70,000 bushels of beans, and when the corn comes, it will be 160,000 to 180,000 bushels a day.

Much of the area crop stays in Illinois, but a good share will head southeast on rail cars or on barges to New Orleans for export, Mickey said.

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