PEORIA, Ill. — Concerns over adequate growing degree days combined with dry weather at grain-fill this past season were eased as corn producers found surprising yields during harvest.

Dave Mowers, AIM for the Heartland consulting agronomist, said there were several factors that played a role in those unexpectedly higher yields.

“Our hybrids are probably the biggest reason, along with better nitrogen management, better tillage, and we had early rains that helped build up the groundwater,” Mowers said at the Greater Peoria Farm Show.

“We were drier in the last half of June, July, August and September than we were in 2012, so it was to our benefit to have the excess water in the spring.”

Also key to helping the crops were those cool sunny days in July as pollination occurred.

“We had a lot more sun. I think we will find out that has an effect on how the crops fill out with lower than expected degree days,” Mowers said.

“With more sun there was more photosynthesis and consequent grain-fill that occurred from that. The amount of sunshine we had all the way through the end of the growing season participated in these unexpectedly high yields.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Illinois’ average corn yield at 180 bushels per acre, a 75 bushel increase over the 2012 drought year. The USDA projects Illinois soybeans to average 49 bushels per acre, six more than in 2012.

In turning attention to 2014, Mowers said there are concerns about the continued dry weather.

“We’ve got to have something to build this groundwater up or I think we will be in stress. I’m not going to say that it’s going to be a disaster, but if we would have had any severe heat in July it would have really mattered this year,” he said.

The suitable weather after harvest did allow farmers to complete their fall tillage. Mowers said increased improvements in farm drainage also increase productivity.

Soil health and potential government regulations also were noted by Mowers during his interview with AgriNews.

“People have also been very mindful of soil health,” he said. “This is going to take a long time to really see, but cover crops have really taken a foothold, and I think the government is going us incentive to do it.”

He anticipates that fertilizer usage will be regulated.

“Sooner or later we’re going to be regulated how much nitrogen we can put on in one application, especially in the fall, and I don’t think that in all reality we can totally ban the use of fall nitrogen or early spring pre-plant nitrogen,” he said.

“We don’t have the infrastructure nor the manpower nor any of the other things that would be necessary to do it in-season.

“But we learned one thing for sure this year that sidedress nitrogen really is an option and people can cover a lot of ground with the equipment they have now to be able to do it with.”

“I think it’s going to increase, it’s just bound to because our potential to lose nitrogen is just so great. It’s not any more than it ever was before I think we’re just more aware of it,” Mowers said.