FARMING FOR DUMMIES: COVER CROPS

Near the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico, there is an area the size of Connecticut that is completely void of any life. This area, which is known as the Gulf’s “dead zone,” is created by a number of environmental factors acting in tandem. 9-26-16imageaOne contributor is fertilizer runoff, which contains the macro-nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, is leached out of soils and into waterways (known as erosion), like the Mississippi River. The water pollution originates in all areas (both from cities and farmland), and these macro-nutrients are carried downstream and pour into the Gulf of Mexico. Because the nutrient levels become so high, algal blooms occur rapidly, depleting much of the oxygen in the area (this condition is otherwise known as hypoxia). Discharge from wastewater management systems is another large contributor to the hypoxia problem. This expeditious depletion of oxygen kills off any animal or plant that once lived there.

Scientists discovered the “dead zone” in the Gulf in 1972. It is the largest man-made hypoxic zone in the world, and in 2002, the zone became as large as the size of Massachusetts. Farmers today are doing everything they can to help decrease the hypoxic zone. One significant way they are minimizing their impact, as well as helping to improve waterways and promote general soil health, farmers have begun to use cover crops.

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Cover crops include any crop that grows between periods of regular crop production. Cover crops benefit agricultural land because they enrich soil and protect it from erosion. Their extensive root system improves aeration in soil, allowing more air and water to infiltrate. Additionally, the root system creates pathways for a diverse array of soil animals that break down unavailable nutrients and make them available for crop uptake – an acre of healthy soil has the equivalent of 4 cows worth of microorganisms living in it! Cover crops create a more fertile and resilient agriculture field that can increase crop yield while also maintaining soil health.

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Cover crops also reduce soil erosion caused by sediments, nutrients, and agricultural chemicals. The root system of these crops and the soil’s biological community take up or hold onto excess nitrogen, preventing it from leaching into waterways. Not only does reduced leaching mean less nutrient runoff into the Gulf (and therefore decreasing the effects of hypoxia), but this also improves the quality of drinking water over time.

Planting cover crops is very beneficial to both the environment and to crop production. When planting, it is important to use a cover crop that compliments the following harvest to maximize the benefits from the cover crop. You can even create cover crop ‘cocktails’ to achieve a multitude of benefits at one time; a field that uses a mix of cover crops is able to take up excess nutrients, suppress weeds, and create soil aggregation all in one area!

If you’re thinking of planting cover crops, whether it is on a small or large-scale, remember to do your research and start small. Additionally, if you want to learn more about cover crops you can attend an Illinois Demo Day, held in multiple counties throughout the summertime. If we all start to utilize cover crops within our agricultural lands, the soil will be more sustainable, and we may see a significant change in the size of the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

cleary_caeli
Caeli Cleary
University of Illinois

IT PAYS TO BE ON SANTA’S NICE LIST!

Last night, the Senate voted 76-16 to pass HR5571, tax extenders legislation. This allows farmers to write off capital expenditures in the year that the purchases are made rather than depreciate them overtime.

Also included was the long-awaited 9 cent increase to the barge fuel tax, which should speed up the process for upgrading our locks & dams!

IT’S A MERRY CHRISTMAS AFTER ALL!

 

Read our entire Christmas list here!

1. THE MEANS TO BUILD NEW LOCKS AND DAMS

2. CLEAR AND SCIENTIFIC FOOD LABELS

3. MARKET ACCESS FOR ETHANOL

4. INCREASED MEAT EXPORTS

PLEASE SANTA, GIVE US LOCKS AND DAMS

It’s become an annual tradition, and here it is again.  IL Corn is asking Santa for only a couple of things this year, but they are biggies!

1. THE MEANS TO BUILD EXPANDED AND UPGRADED LOCKS AND DAMS

This one has topped our Christmas list for several years.

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: WE NEED LOCKS AND DAMS – 2013

LOCK AND DAM FUNDING NEEDED! – 2012

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: NEW LOCKS AND DAMS! – 2011

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: NEW LOCKS AND DAMS – 2010

barge and tow2014 is no different.  But 2015 might be, because Congress did pass a Water Resources and Reform Development Act this year that made some necessary changes, allowing less money to be sucked into Olmsted and more money to be freed up for other lock and dam projects.

Read more about that here.

And the user fee increase that we’ve advocated for over the past several years was included in a piece of legislation that passed in the House this month.  All that remains is the Senate to take action and the President to sign – and I’m sure Santa can manage that!

Why are new locks and dams important?

  • 60 percent of the nation’s export-bound grain is transported on the inland waterways.
  • The Panama Canal expansion will create opportunities for increased American trade, but not if our channels are not dredged and our locks and dams are not functioning.
  • American consumers benefit from transportation cost-savings made possible by the inland waterways; for every $1 invested in our inland waterways, $10 is returned in national benefits.

Santa, if you could see it in your heart to just answer one of our Christmas wishes, this is the one.  Let’s start on a new lock in 2015.

Lindsay Mitchell 11/14Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

Read our entire Christmas list here!

1. THE MEANS TO BUILD NEW LOCKS AND DAMS

2. CLEAR AND SCIENTIFIC FOOD LABELS

3. MARKET ACCESS FOR ETHANOL

4. INCREASED MEAT EXPORTS

CORPS CLOSES THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER

barge

2014 is turning out to be a record corn harvest year.  Farmers in Illinois are forecast to harvest an average of almost 200 bushels per acre – when the 2013 average was only 178 bushels per acre.

You might also remember that more than half of Illinois corn leaves the state for export, much of it floating down the Mississippi River.  Which makes a 14 day river closure – right now in the thick of harvest – one of those things that makes you go hmmmmmmm.

At this point in the year, a 14-day lock closure could have catastrophic consequences.

Read this to learn more about the Army Corps of Engineers and their surprise river closure during harvest!

ILLINOIS LOCKS AND DAMS ARE FALLING APART WHEN TOUCHED! OUCH!

Congressional Staff TourHere’s where some of our staff were this week – showing staffers of the Illinois Congressional Delegation how our locks and dams are literally falling apart to the touch!  Hopefully this will help Congress understand why we desperately need funding to finally fix this issue!!

 

CONGRESS AGREES LOCKS AND DAMS ARE IMPORTANT, BUT NOW WHAT?

Over the years, we’ve updated you quite a bit on IL Corn’s quest to update the locks and dams on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers.

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: WE NEED LOCKS AND DAMS

WHY ARE THERE STILL NO NEW LOCKS AND DAMS?

GOVERNMENT INEFFICIENCY PLAGUES LOCK AND DAM UPGRADES

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN: AMERICA NEEDS TO INVEST IN NEW LOCKS AND DAMS

bargeThe latest update is a sad, but true status quo.  Congress seems to understand that locks and dams should be a priority, and they pass legislation that make locks and dams a priority, but we get no funding appropriated that puts teeth behind their legislation.

The most recently passed Water Resources and Reform Development Act (WRRDA) is no exception.  This bill does contain some needed reforms and authorizations, but without appropriations, honestly doesn’t mean much.

The best and most promising part of the bill changes the funding mechanism for Olmsted Lock and Dam to 85 percent from federal treasury and 15 percent from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund.  Simply making a change that forces the U.S. Government to pay for their own crazy inefficiencies is significant – because it frees up money in the Inland Waterways Trust Fund to start construction on other projects.

However, the most needed reform, an increase to the barge user fee that barge companies, farmers, and other river users all support, elludes us.  This increase would put some real money back into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund and help us to move lock and dam upgrades more quickly through the system.

Interesting that everyone who would be paying this fee supports it because new locks and dams would more than make the money back for them in efficiencies – but Congress still won’t pass it.

If this issue interests you, AND IT SHOULD because poor river transportation effects rock salt deliveries for icy Chicago streets and many other inputs you are used to, read our articles on this topic.

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

WE’VE BEEN WORKING LOCKS AND DAMS FOR A LOOONNNNGGG TIME!

historical lock and dam

We might be a little late for Throwback Thursday #tbt, but this old photo of a former IL Corn leader doing a news broadcast on the dilapidated state of a locks and dams really hits home one point – we’ve been working on upgrading our river transportation system for YEARS!

Our fingers are crossed that we get a new Water Resources Development Act bill passed next week. After that, we keep working to pass an increase in the barge fuel tax that will give us the increased income to make some notable progress!

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: A FUNCTIONAL GOVERNMENT

It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …

1. A REVERSAL OF THE EPA’S PROPOSED RULE ON THE RFS

2. A FARM BILL ALREADY!!!

3. FUNDING FOR LOCKS AND DAMS

4. INCENTIVES FOR E15

5. A FUNCTIONAL U.S. and STATE GOVERNMENT

This week, I’ve spelled out IL Corn’s priorities as they stand right now and asked Santa to fix them for us for Christmas.  The fact of the matter is, that he could probably fix them all, by bringing us this very last gift.

Santa, we’d love a functional U.S. and state government for Christmas.

For those of you outside Illinois, I’m sure the partisanship and the bickering in the federal government gets old and exhausting.  The budget issues are concerning with no solution in sight.  The leadership is lacking at times.

Here in Illinois, we deal with that at the state level too.

With a reasonable, functional, and able to compromise government at the state and federal level, we’d be able to talk through our need for locks and dams.  It’s a request that just makes sense, yet we can find minimal leadership to help us fix it.

We would have had a farm bill the first time.  Do you remember your shock when the farm bill failed on the House floor this year?

We would have E15 incentives because the legislation just makes sense.  Who doesn’t want to save money at the pump?  Who doesn’t at least want the CHOICE to save money at the pump?  Who doesn’t want more money in our state budget?

Santa, this request is short and sweet.  Could you give our legislators a change of heart?  Make our governments work efficiently and meaningfully towards solutions to our biggest problems?

In the end, that’s all we really want for Christmas.

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

IL CORN’S CHRISTMAS LIST: WE NEED LOCKS AND DAMS

It’s Christmas time!  In what has become a yearly tradition, I’d like to share the things that Illinois Corn wants for Christmas!  Here we go …

1. A REVERSAL OF THE EPA’S PROPOSED RULE ON THE RFS

2. A FARM BILL ALREADY!!!

3. FUNDING FOR LOCKS AND DAMS

We have fourteen years of working on upgrading locks and dams under our belt.  Fourteen years.  FOURTEEN YEARS.

Luckily, we’ve learned a few things.

  • Legislators don’t want to fund things that take more than 2 years to come to fruition.  They want to obtain funding for a project that will return results before they are back up for reelection.  This makes our project difficult.
  • Funding is hard to come by – especially with a gazillion dollar deficit.
  • Individual Congressmen told us that we needed to build coalitions and get more people involved.  We did that.  We now have a coalition of agriculture, trade unions, environmental interests, barge companies, and more involved in pushing for upgraded locks and dams.  It hasn’t gotten us anywhere so far, but we’ll continue pushing.
  • There’s a lot of waste and mismanagement.  The Olmsted Lock and Dam has been a work in progress since 1988 and still isn’t finished.  The original cost of $775 million ballooned to a current cost (for an unfinished lock!) of almost $3 billion.  This poor prioritization of funds and project is a problem.
  • Congress now tells us that public-private partnerships are the ticket so that’s what we’re proposing.  Farmers are willing to pay an additional barge fee to increase the private funding if government can allocate funding too.  But Congressmen aren’t willing to “increase taxes” in this political climate even though all the folks that pay the “tax” are willing and begging for its implementation.
  • Government dysfunction hinders us all … and lock and dam funding isn’t an exception.

We have had some recent successes, but the key here is to continue being patient because every gain is very small baby step in the right direction.  The Water Resources and Reform Development Act is right now in conference committee.  Both the House and Senate versions contained some changes to the funding mechanism for Olmstead which will free up money to start other lock and dam projects on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.   This is a win, but a small one.  The new WRRDA will not contain an increase in the barge fuel tax or any additional funding allocations.

For Christmas, Illinois corn farmers just want locks and dams that allow them to be competitive in a global marketplace.  They want locks and dams that work, and don’t spontaneously combust into the river.  (You think I’m joking, but take a look at this video.  These locks are OLD and in need of massive repair.)

If I’ve inspired you at all, would you ask for the same?

4. INCENTIVES FOR E15

5. A FUNCTIONAL U.S. and STATE GOVERNMENT

Lindsay MitchellLindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director