The 4-plus inches of rain that has fallen on the Quad-City area since October began is giving farmers headaches.
Local soybean and corn growers project the wet weather — 4.07 inches of rain since Oct. 1 — could extend this year's harvest by a week and hurt their bottom line. Normally, those farmers would be out in the fields harvesting 12 to 14 hours a day or longer this time of year.
The moisture causes a number of problems — from the logistics of loading the crop to its storage, as well as effects on corn kernels and soybean pods. Even with the arrival of dry weather, problems persist because of soft fields.
"We are on hilly ground, so a lot of the excess water will run off," said Brent Riewerts, a Hillsdale, Illinois-area farmer with both corn and soybeans. "There were a few guys combining (Tuesday); that was decent. But the ground is still pretty soft."
A combine can cause its own problems in such weather, Riewerts said.
"Any time you are out on wet, damp ground and you are driving over it with heavier machinery, you are going to have compaction issues going into next spring," he said. "So that’s not good for next year’s crop."
Getting grain out of wet fields also can challenge farmers.
"They might be able to get their combine through the field, but they can’t get their tractor with their grain cart,” Riewerts said. Instead, he said, farmers may have to drive a loaded combine to the edge of a field and empty grain into a cart or truck parked on the road.
That process eats up a lot of time, Riewerts said, and going back and forth "just extends the harvest that much more."
The rain-delayed harvest also shortens the time farmers have to work fields after the crop is out. "So maybe all your tillage won’t get done," Riewerts said.
Bill Onken, who farms near Illinois City, Illinois, and Muscatine, said rain-related problems extend beyond getting the crop out.
"(The rain) will have a direct impact on the quality of grain we will harvest," said Onken who has been farming for 40 years.
"The crop quality itself — the corn stalks are extremely susceptible to breaking off," he said. "You wouldn’t be able to harvest those ears. They will end up on the ground."
Riewerts said he can see the effect the rains have had on recently harvested corn.
"So I don’t know if we are going to see some rotting or molds on the kernels from being so wet with all the moisture in the husk," he said.
Illinois farmers had harvested 63 percent of this year's corn crop as of Sunday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Barely half of the state's soybean crop — 51 percent — was out of the field by Sunday.
In Iowa, 15 percent of the corn crop harvested for grain was out as of Sunday, while 18 percent of the soybeans had been harvested, according to the USDA.
"With the ground being so wet, it will take longer to dry out," Onken said of soybean fields.
"It will be much later in the fall where we will be able to cut those soybeans," he said. "We have had hail in some of these thunderstorms where the soybean pods shatter out the bean."
River levels also are affecting this year's harvest.
Late Thursday morning, the Rock River was at 16.96 feet in Joslin and falling after a 17.2-foot crest Wednesday. At Moline, the Rock was at 14.81 feet and falling after a 14.88-foot crest Wednesday. Flood level at both locations is 12 feet.
The Mississippi River around noon Thursday was still rising, measured at 17.4 feet in Rock Island and headed to an 18.5-foot crest forecast late Saturday. Flood level is 15 feet.
At Illinois City, the Mississippi was at 18.06 feet; flood level is 15 feet. The river's projected crest there is 19.5 feet on Monday; it's been higher only 10 times in the last 50 years.
"With the high river event we are having right now, we are getting ground water that’s seeping up," said Onken, who also is a drainage district commissioner. "So we are having to pump a lot harder to keep our drainage ditches down, which will help control the ground table because of the water that’s seeping in.
"It’s not only hard to actually harvest, but we got the additional expense of this drainage cost, like trying to pump all this water," Onken added.
Riewerts said the rain has resulted in wet spots in fields ranging from the size of a garage to the size of several football fields.
"When the river is high, those low pockets tend to be really wet," he said. "It's so wet and muddy that you can’t get through them. So you might have to pick around them."
Riewerts said next week's weather is not expected to be that warm but is expected to be dry. David Cousins, a meteorologists with the National Weather Service in the Quad-Cities, said there’s a slight chance of rain Friday afternoon but, after that, the long-range forecast calls for dry weather until the end of next week.
Onken and Riewerts say it’s hard to gauge how much the recent rainy weather will cost them. Before the bad weather, Onken said, this year's harvest was looking like an "outstanding crop."
“I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but it’s not much fun," said Onken. "It's going to be a lot of excessive cost in the harvesting and trucking, because we are not going to be able to put our trucks out in the field."