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Illinois Farmer Today reports:

As farmers look ahead to the growing season, it can be helpful to break down the outlook for a single acre of corn from a single farmer's perspective.

EJ Kelley, who farms with his father, George "Ed" Kelley, near Bloomington in McLean County, estimates that input costs for corn for him are about $450 per acre this year, plus land costs which vary depending on location, ownership or lease or rental agreements. The Kelleys farm 1,800 acres of crops.

In the 17 years Kelley had been farming, he says the intensity of management has grown with new technology. It's not just planting something and waiting for harvest, but now involves more spoon feeding for the crop and using data to make decisions, he says.

To make those decisions, Kelley breaks down the planning process month by month.


Time to get tax information in line and to look at equipment to see that everything is in order.

"We haul a lot of grain (from our storage) this time of year," Kelley says.


"We are following prices. We do a lot of prepaying of chemical and start looking at fertilizer and nitrogen for the following year," Kelley says.

Time is spent working in the shop and hauling more grain.

Family time comes in February for the Kelleys and a trip to the National Farm Equipment Show in Louisville, Ky.

It's the season for meetings with the co-op, banks and agronomists.


"We starting to get ready," Kelley says.

It's time to fine-tune equipment and get seed ready. It's also delivery time for his Beck's seed sales job.


By the first of the month, there will be some tillage, spraying and chemical application. Vertical tillage comes before corn.

Weather permitting, corn planting starts about April 15, with about 160 acres planted each day.

"In perfect weather, we can finish planting in a 14-day window," Kelley says.


All the acres of corn are usually in by the beginning of the month and soybean planting is completed soon after. It's time to start scouting that corn crop for weeds to determine timing for spraying and side dressing with nitrogen.


The time comes to consider if fungicide or insecticide is needed. This year, fungicide application is not part of the Kelleys' planned system - it will be used if needed, as part of their cost-containment plans to deal with low corn prices.

There will be a lot more scouting this year as part of decision making.

"When we had $6-plus corn, return on investment was a lot easier to get," he says. "We did a lot for a higher yield. With $3.50 corn, some things we think through more carefully."

July - August

"We watch the weather and hope for timely rains," Kelley says.

Yield checks are taking place in order to plan for marketing, and the farm is starting to get harvest equipment ready.


Often harvest starts about Sept. 15, depending on what the corn moisture is.

"We have our own storage, so we can start a little wetter and see if everything is working," Kelley says. "We get some pretty good savings from not having to pay elevators for drying."


Harvest push is full-on with hopes of being done by Halloween.

Usually the Kelleys harvest about 70 acres a day, which is double the amount EJ's father harvested when he was starting out with smaller equipment. 2014 was a record yield year on their farm, and the goal is to break that record.

"We shy away from using anhydrous in the fall now," Kelley says.

The cost of the product doesn't line up with the benefits of yield and there are environmental concerns. It's mostly all spring nitrogen and side dress now. In-line ripping ahead of corn is part of the plan.

"We may be doing a little cover crop work. We tried cover crops in a stewardship program for five years. We struggled with getting a good stand and never saw a big benefit," he says.


"We hope to have everything done by Thanksgiving and start the process all over again," Kelley says.

He starts with seed selection after looking at the results from harvest. In selecting hybrids, "we use both those that performed well and try to integrate some of the new ones," he says.


Kelley decides early in the month on the hybrids and varieties to use after looking at the numbers from November.

This month there are many meetings that offer information to make herbicide and other decisions for the coming year. Glyphosate resistance is a reality in this area.

"It's a challenge, and it's expensive," he says of weed control. "The easy days of spraying Roundup are gone."

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