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Illinois farmers get jump start on crops during productive winter

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(The Center Square) – A fourth-generation Illinois farmer calls the recent warm, dry winter a double-edged sword, a phenomenon that boosted productivity but left the groundwater at worrisome low levels.

Chris Otten, who farms near St. Libory southwest of St. Louis, was among many who took advantage of this winter’s favorable climate to get a jump-start on the spring season.

“It was perfect. The land couldn’t have gotten any better than it was,” Otten told The Center Square. “And temperature-wise, the older I get, the more I like the warm anyway. So it works out well.”

The wheat crop is moving ahead of schedule and could give farmers a much-needed productivity boost. Corn and soybeans are also at or ahead of schedule, according to Otten.

But rain will be needed to complete nature’s work, and that’s the other side of the sword. In a dry spell, roots can live on sub-soil moisture, but at some point, they will suffer.

“There’s not much there so our crops could take a hit,” Otten said. “I can spend all the money and do all the things and trials I want to do but if it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t matter.”

Besides wheat, other crops getting an early start are corn and soybeans, with great potential at a time when China’s ailing economy is shrinking demand.

“If we continue on the path we’re on, hopefully, we’ll have more yield and more bushels at the end of the year,” Otten said, noting that China is one of the United States’ biggest buyers and its struggle is taking a toll on prices.

“We need more bushels to make up for it because our costs are kind of almost an all-time high,” he said. “It’s kind of a Catch-22. We’re self-inflicted. The more we produce, the more green there is, the cheaper it gets.”

With the provision of more rainfall and a warmer winter that lets farmers get work done, these goals may be within reach for Otten and other growers.