GREAT NEWS ON LOCKS AND DAMS

After years (ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS LOCKS & DAMS) and years (WHY ARE THERE STILL NO NEW LOCKS AND DAMS?) of waiting for funding, we got the first GREAT NEWS on locks and dams last week!

The best news of all is that the government finally appropriated some funding to fix the LaGrange Lock and Dam.

THIS. IS. HUGE.

You might remember, the LaGrange Lock and Dam is the worst out of all of the locks that need repair on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.  It is the one with concrete literally falling into the river.

IL Corn was elated to read Congressmen Davis and LaHood’s release announcing the funding, and was especially proud to be a part of the forward momentum for updated locks in Illinois.

“Moving forward with updating LaGrange is long-awaited great news for Illinois corn farmers who have been advocating for such improvements for decades”, said Aron Carlson President of the Illinois Corn Growers Association. “Everyone knows LaGrange is a ticking timebomb for some type of failure. More than a third of Illinois’ corn production is exported via the inland waterways, so to say any disruption or closure on the system is costly to producers is an understatement.”

In other good news, we also were finally able to share with our Board of Directors last week that the Olmsted Lock and Dam has scheduled an opening date!  This project has been perhaps the longest and largest civil works project in the history of the Corps of Engineers.  Multiple delays, especially in funding have created a 30 year endeavor that has been inflated from a $700+ million price tag to over $3 billion in early 2018.

IL Corn is so happy – elated even – to check this big lock and dam project off the list.  The Olmsted Lock and Dam will officially begin locking barges on August 29, 2018.

Nothing feels better than knowing we’re moving forward in our goals, especially when these forward movements will help Illinois corn farmers (and the rest of the nation) stay competitive with other countries.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

HOW THE U.S. IS BECOMING LESS COMPETITIVE EVERY DAY

The LaGrange Lock and Dam and the Upper Mississippi Lock and Dam 25 are vital pieces of the marine highway for agricultural commerce, linking the upper Mississippi and Illinois basin farmlands to export markets reachable through the Louisiana Gulf. Each year, more than ten million tons of corn and soybeans transit this lock down-bound for export, and the region’s agriculture is equally served by up-bound fertilizer movement.

In addition, the LaGrange Lock and Dam serve as an integral component in the navigation system linking the Chicago Area and Great Lakes Waterway Systems to the rest of the U.S.

As Americans, we simply cannot stand by and not invest in our infrastructure, costing American companies $1.7 billion additional in transport costs and, more importantly, costing the U.S.A. our competitiveness.

We must secure appropriations (funding) to rebuild our locks and dams.

WATERWAYS AND WHY WE NEED THEM

Mississippi River, farmersJust as we use many forms of transportation to reach our final destination, whether it be for work, school, or a day in the city, so does the agriculture industry. This industry relies on many forms of transportation to deliver products to reach the ultimate destination: on shelves for consumers to buy. One of these important forms is water transportation. Products such as grain, biofuels and other important agriculture commodities are shipped via the waterways. In fact, in Illinois, we export about 41% of our corn, and the main method of shipping this commodity is on barges.

So why is this important? Well, just as our vehicles require maintenance from normal wear and tear, waterways need the same treatment. These locks and dams are designed to last approximately 50 years before requiring maintenance. Factors such as extreme weather can take a huge toll on these vital routes of transportation. Without proper care, outages occur, causing barges to reroute to an open lock and dam. This extended travel is not nearly as efficient, especially when there is high traffic traveling towards the same area.

 

Because millions of tons travel through locks and dams each year, it is crucial to understand the importance of the waterway system. Think about the train stations in one of our popular U.S. cities. If one of those train stations was not able to operate and bring people to their destination on a regular basis, then all those passengers would have to find means of transportation elsewhere, likely another station in the city. This leads to increased crowds and potentially long wait times for trains because the flow of traffic is much higher with one less operating train station. This is essentially the issue our locks and dams are facing with the waterways. Agriculture relies heavily on all forms of transportation to carry goods, and when one or more outages occur on the waterways, it impacts agriculture exports and the economic benefits this industry provide for our country.

So how can we help fix this issue? One of the most important things we as consumers can do is stay up to date with news and data shared about this significant issue. Without education, it becomes tough to understand these key issues and how we as consumers are impacted. Check credible sources, such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) or the Waterways Council on a regular basis for updates on issues such as this one. The more educated we are, the better equipped we are to advocate and help solves important problems.

Susie Thompson
Illinois State University

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: LOCKS & DAMS

 

[Originally posted December 12, 2016]

At this point, I sound like a broken record.  (And if you’re tired of hearing me talk about locks and dams, be glad you don’t know Jim Tarmann – an IL Corn staffer who has been working on this issue for 20ish years!)

Illinois farmers need updated locks and dams if the U.S. wants us to remain globally competitive.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

WE NEED LOCKS AND DAMS!

We’re getting closer.  Congress has changed some funding equations and the industry (all the users of the river system) agreed to pay more in order to generate income to improve locks and dams.  This means that we’re closer than we’ve ever been and that’s exciting.

But we’re really REALLY hoping that Santa will whisper in the ears of the powers that be and include lock and dam construction in the potential transportation and infrastructure spending we keep hearing about in the new year.  This could be such a huge gain for IL agriculture!!

Want to learn more?  We’ve published some great articles on the need for upgraded locks and dams (click here).  Don’t forget, the locks and dams we’re using now were built in Mark Twain’s era for steam boats!!  At that time, we weren’t even dreaming about huge tows of grain headed to a global market!!

You might also enjoy this short video clip.

Please Santa!  Let’s start on a new lock in 2017!

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: LOCKS & DAMS

At this point, I sound like a broken record.  (And if you’re tired of hearing me talk about locks and dams, be glad you don’t know Jim Tarmann – an IL Corn staffer who has been working on this issue for 20ish years!)

Illinois farmers need updated locks and dams if the U.S. wants us to remain globally competitive.  There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

WE NEED LOCKS AND DAMS!

christmas-list

We’re getting closer.  Congress has changed some funding equations and the industry (all the users of the river system) agreed to pay more in order to generate income to improve locks and dams.  This means that we’re closer than we’ve ever been and that’s exciting.

But we’re really REALLY hoping that Santa will whisper in the ears of the powers that be and include lock and dam construction in the potential transportation and infrastructure spending we keep hearing about in the new year.  This could be such a huge gain for IL agriculture!!

Don’t forget, the locks and dams we’re using now were built in Mark Twain’s era for steamboats!!  At that time, we weren’t even dreaming about huge tows of grain headed to a global market!!

You might also enjoy this short video clip.

Please Santa!  Let’s start on a new lock in 2017!

Mitchell_LindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

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.

9-26-16imageb

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.

9-26-16imagec

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

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.

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.

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

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!!