ALL WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: NEW LOCKS AND DAMS

Dear Santa,

Over the past year Illinois farmers feel that they have been very well behaved. We have worked diligently to once again feed the world while making several changes to help our environment, protect the safety of our consumers, and produce high quality products. In fact, America’s corn farmers have cut soil erosion forty-four percent by using innovative conservation tillage methods! As far as yields are concerned, nationwide there has been a twenty percent increase since the year 2000. We hope that you will please take our Christmas list into consideration and do whatever you can to help us make the best better in the agricultural industry. Have a Merry Christmas!

Yours Truly,

Illinois Corn

 

  1. Free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
  2. Corn based ethanol to be allowed to qualify as an advanced biofuel
  3. Upgraded locks and dams.

Due to Illinois’ geographical location, upgrading locks and dams is vital to our economy. The Mississippi and Illinois Rivers allow Illinois corn farmers to transport their grains all over the world. By utilizing the locks and dams system we are protecting the environment, being energy efficient, preventing congestion on our roadways, providing American jobs, and staying competitive in the world trade market.

Many industries (Illinois Corn is one!) that realize how vital lock and dam upgrades really are have come together in order to help the progress of the upgrades. In fact, the users of the river system have even agreed to increase the fuel tax in order to assist in the funding of the project. Farmers need efficient means to get their product to market so desperately that even with the additional costs, they are money ahead! 

And when record federal deficits are the headline in every paper, farmers and barge companies realize what they have to do to get this done.  There are very few groups that are currently willing to fund part of their own project.

There are only a few things that I can add that you probably haven’t already read in the fourteen year time span that Illinois corn has worked for upgraded locks and dams on the Mississippi and Illinois.  And actually, maybe you already knew some of these things too.

  • One barge has the same capacity of seventy semi trucks and sixteen railcars.
  • A barge can travel five hundred and seventy six miles on one gallon of fuel.
  • The present locks and dams were built in the 1930s and 1940s when the paddleboats that Mark Twain writes of traveled the Mississippi. 
  • Panama is nearing completion of their canal expansion, allowing even larger vessels through to the US.  We don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate those larger vessels or their cargo.
  • The Pacific Northwest transportation system is at capacity.  If we plan to increase exports, we will have to utilize the Mississippi River system.

Kelsey Vance
Illinois State University student

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GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN …
MR. PRESIDENT, WHERE ARE THE LOCKS AND DAMS?
FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN: AMERICA NEEDS TO INVEST IN RIVER INFRASTRUCTURE

Having just come off of several policy and priority setting meetings with Illinois corn farmers all over the state, I feel very confident of this fact: selling corn for export outside of the country is the largest market for Illinois corn.

The reasons for this are simple. Illinois has a great location on three major rivers: the Illinois, the Ohio, and the mighty Mississippi. With adequate and efficient river transportation, we are a powerhouse of exporting capacity.

However, that stands to change. Illinois corn farmers are continuing to increase yields exponentially, and export markets aren’t dwindling. But the simple fact is that our current infrastructure no longer allows for the efficient transportation of our goods to market … and it’s going to get worse.

Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers has typically maintained the authorized depth of 45 feet on the Mississippi by dredging. When they were not allocated enough funds to dredge and maintain this depth, they “reprogrammed” funds from other projects, speculating that maintaining the authorized depth was the most important. However, as their fiscal year 2011 began, ACE announced that they would no longer “reprogram” funds to dredge and would stay within the budgeted funding amount.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the river is currently at its lowest levels in a decade. Certain points in the river are already becoming unsafe for larger ships and passage is restricted to daylight only. When spring comes with its additional rains and runoff, ACE warns that they will only be able to guarantee 40 feet instead of the 45-47 feed that shippers need.

This means shipping is less efficient, grain prices will drop, and American’s will lose out to foreign buyers.

Bottom line, America’s failure to make long term investments in its infrastructure is an insurmountable hurdle, this dredging issue AND the larger issue of needed lock and dam improvements included. President Obama has already declared his intent to double exports over the next five years. Although an ambitious goal, Americans can produce and other countries will demand enough to make this possible, if only our transportation system would allow it.

There is no way we can double exports if cargo ships cannot use the Mississippi River. Experts indicate that the Pacific Northwest is already at 100% capacity. This means any increased growth in US exports must travel to market via the Mississippi River system and when that system is broken, how exactly does the President plan to get the additional goods out of America?

Corn farmers have been shouting it and we’ll continue until someone finally listens.  We need investment in river infrastructure.

Come on, folks.  If Brazil and Panama can do it, so can we.

Jim Tarmann
ICGA/ICMB Locks

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MR. PRESIDENT, WHERE ARE THE LOCKS AND DAMS?
TRADE MISSIONS ARE VITAL TO ILLINOIS AGRICULTURE

MR. PRESIDENT, WHERE ARE THE LOCKS AND DAMS?

Labor Day, the day we American’s celebrate our nation’s workforce, is a great day to announce plans for more jobs. I definitely understand what President Obama was thinking when he stood in Milwaukee, WI and announced plans for massive infrastructure investment, which will not only modernize American roads, rails, and runways, but will also create millions of jobs.

What I don’t understand is the conspicuous absence of funding for upgraded locks and dams.

Will investment in waterway transportation create jobs? Yes. Updating our waterway infrastructure will create 48 million hours of labor for skilled trade workers throughout the Midwest.

Does investment in waterway transportation offer a return on investment? Definitely. America’s inland waterway navigation system moves more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year. Agricultural products are a significant portion of that commerce and agriculture is one industry with potential to pull our economy out of the black hole it’s in.

Does investment in waterway transportation garner industry support? Undoubtedly. The shipping industry is the only industry stepping forward to provide additional funding streams for upgrades to their system that will match federal dollars. In other words, upgrading locks and dams provides jobs and return on investment in a much bigger dose than other projects because the industry is financing a portion of the project.

So what’s the problem? I’m not sure. President Obama used to support lock and dam upgrades. As a US Senator he was an advocate for upgraded locks and dams and even played a key role in the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 that now simply sits for lack of funding. He used to be in favor of allowing the US to be competitive in a global market. He used to understand that Midwestern agriculture, the powerhouse of the American economy, relied on efficient infrastructure to get goods to markets all across the globe.

What’s changed? Again, I’m not sure. What I do know is that investment in waterway transportation offers a greener option for transporting goods, a bundle of great jobs for Midwestern workers, and a means to allow agriculture to further drive our country out of an economic mess.

All I know for sure is that that no matter what question I ask, upgraded locks and dams are the answer. More jobs, greener transportation, supportive to our nation’s largest economic powerhouse …

Mr. President, where are the locks and dams?

Jim Tarmann
Frustrated IL Corn Waterway Transportation Specialist

SILVER FIN AN ILLINOIS DELICACY?

The summer 2010 issue of Our Mississippi brings silver fin (AKA Asian Carp) to the forefront, positioning it as both a delicacy and an important tactic to control the Asian Carp population.

According to Baton Rouge, LA chef Philippe Parola, the first step is “rebranding.” He says that the fish tastes like crabmeat and scallops and included several recipes for the readers at home to try silver fin which I’ve provided below.

Remember, the multitudes of Asian Carp in Illinois waterways and prevention measures to keep them out of the Great Lakes were a subject of much debate earlier in the year. In fact, the O’Brien Lock and Chicago Lock were closed for a period of time this year to keep the fish out, which also meant additional time and money to get needed products to the Chicagoland area.

Perhaps repositioning the fish, which is actually the oldest domesticated fish species in the world and has been farmed for at least 3,000 years in Asia, as a valued Illinois product (The state of Illinois has recently signed an agreement to export the fish to China!) is just the ticket to move the needle on this debate.

Silver fin fried strips

16 silver fin fish filets (boneless if possible, bones easily removed by boiling)
2 eggs
1 cup of half & half for eggwash
1 cup of Louisiana fish fry seasoned flour
Peckapepper mango sauce for dipping

Preheat fryer at 350, in a bowl beat eggs, then add half & half and stir well to make egg wash. Place the silver fin strips into egg wash, then coat each strip with the seasoned flour. Fry until done and serve with Peckapepper mango sauce.
Serves 4.

Silver fin with fresh berries

4 silver fin fish filets
2 ounces each: raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and grapes
2 tablespoons pecan oil
2 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons heavy cream
3 ounces white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 orange, juiced
Seasoning to taste

Heat pecan oil and better in a sauté skillet until very hot. Brown seasoned silver fin on both sides, then add white wine and juices from lemon and orange. Bring to a boil, then add all the fresh berries and boil for 3 minutes over medium high heat. Stir in cream and season to taste.
Serves 4.

Silver fin cakes

1 pound silver fin white meat
4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 eggs
1 ounce bread crumbs
Seasoned flour
Seasoning and hot sauce to taste

Poach or steam silver fin meat until fully cooked, then break it up in pieces to remove bones. Place meat into a mixing bowl and add butter, mustard, 1 egg and lemon juice. Mix well. Add bread crumbs and season to taste. Roll into small cakes. To make egg wash, beat one egg with 2 tablespoons water. Dip fish into egg wash, then seasoned flour. Fry.
Serves 4.

Rodney Weinzierl
ICGA/ICMB Executive Director

WASHINGTON, DC OR BUST

Tomorrow, I set off for Washington, DC along with twenty of so of my favorite Illinois corn farmers.  While we’re there, we’re going to talk corn policy for a bit (determining as a nation of corn farmers what it is that we stand for and what will allow us to continuing growing corn for generations and generations) and we’re going to chat with our Illinois elected officials.

That’s what I wanted to focus on today … how important it is to make time to tell your elected officials what you think.

I know there are quite a few folks that are discouraged and even a little jaded when it comes to politics these days.  I’m one of them at times.  And I know there are swarms of people who are frustrated that politicians seem to seek only their own reelection instead of seeking to do their job and serve the people in their district.

What I say is look at the cards you were dealt and play them.

The system is what it is.  And until it changes, our goal (and yours too!) should simply be to play the largest part within the system that you can.  That means getting involved, knowing your Congressman, Representatives, and Senators, and calling them or visiting them.  Because they actually do want to hear from you!

Millions of issues come across the House and Senate floor every day and your Congressman can’t possibly know the details of every single one.  Often, he’s looking to his peers and his party to determine what his/her vote will be.  But one simple conversation with you might put that issue into perspective and make him think a little harder about his vote.

Perhaps you can relay to your elected official that your farm has been in the family for a hundred years and now you are worried that you might lose it due to estate taxes.  Perhaps you can talk about your desire to grow your livestock operation, but fear the EPA or the animal rights extremists will ruin your investment.  Perhaps your family has occupied the same small town for generations and is now seeing an economic improvement from a local ethanol plant that you’d hate to see go under.

Whatever your specific instance, you have experiences that mean something to your Congressman … experiences that he or she cannot understand until they have spoken with you.  Experiences that might ultimately flavor his final vote in a way that you can’t even imagine yet.

All this bang for your minimal investment to go see him or call him in the first place.  Can you imagine if you kept this contact up?  What context you could offer her decisions if you had a relationship with your elected official or her staff?

This is what the Illinois corn farmers will be doing this week – offering context to the myriad of decisions being made in the House and Senate.  They will discuss how higher blends of ethanol would create markets for Illinois corn.  They will thank Congressmen Johnson and Halvorson for their vote to move a free trade agreement with Cuba out of House Ag Committee which will open up markets for Illinois corn if passed.  They will explain to the Illinois Delegation what better infrastructure on the Illinois and Mississippi River could mean for Illinois’ competitiveness worldwide.

You could do this too.

Open up the lines of communication.  Call or email your elected officials today.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICMB/ICGA Marketing Director

CAUTION: MEN AT WORK

The Illinois Corn home office is under construction this week. We’re trying to prepare for our June board meetings by repairing some massive pot holes in our parking lot and driveway. What that means for those of us in the office is parking a little further away and doing a bit of a hopscotch move to get into the front door of the building without stepping in drying cement.


Inside the office, we’re under construction too. In fact, there’s a host of issues and events that we’re working on! Some have short deadlines, some have been in progress for decades, but much like the men outside pouring cement, we’re dedicated and can’t wait to see these projects to completion.

It’s just that we’re going to do so with our shirts ON.

Locks and Dams

If you take a look at our website and visit the locks and dams section, we boast that this just might be the year that Illinois corn farmers finally see funding for lock and dam upgrades. What led us to that conclusion is partly that industry and the Army Corps of Engineers have come to an agreement on how to fund the upgrades AND complete them efficiency. We’ve been taking this message to Congress and have found that they are particularly receptive to groups that have their own funding streams to partner with federal dollars! But we also know that if we don’t get lock and dam funding this year, we might have to wait a few more before we push it again. So … 2010 is the year in our minds because the timing just won’t be right next year. Call your Congressman and ask that they fund lock and dam upgrades!

CornBelters

Opening day is June 1! That means that the rest of the week and Tuesday, we’ll be hard at work preparing messaging, coordinating media, assigning tickets, outfitting our suite, and doing all the other miscellaneous work that accompanies our CornBelters partnership. Please join us for opening day when our ICMB Chairman, Jim Rapp, will throw the first pitch! If this is something that interests you, you might check out our recent podcast.

Ethanol

Now that we finally have the first blender pump operating in Sullivan, IL, we can return to other ethanol issues that are close at hand. The EPA indicates that they will issue a decision on higher ethanol blends this summer and we continue to press our Illinois Delegation to co-sponsor HR 4940, the Renewable Fuels Reinvestment Act. This act would extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit among other things and will help ethanol remain a valuable partner in developing rural communities, lessoning our environmental impact, and accomplishing energy security. Kuddos to the Illinois Congressman that have already co-sponsored this important bill – if your Congressman doesn’t appear here, give him or her a call today!

Social Media

We have hired several interns for the summer that will start next week working on social media projects and helping us continue to gear up our social media presence. As you’ve obviously noticed, our blog posts and content are improving daily, but we can’t wait for them to arrive, helping us populate our youtube channel with valuable information and maybe even getting more facts and data our on facebook and twitter. If you aren’t already following us on all of these important outlets, I’d encourage you to check into them!

There are a million other “projects under construction” in our office but this definitely gives you a flavor for what the Illinois Corn staff and boards are up to right now. Please notice that we can’t complete many of these projects without your help! Consider contacting your Congressman on the above issues to thank him and ask for his help on the things that matter to you. Consider partnering with us on the social media front by following us on twitter, Facebook, youtube, or the blog and forward our messaging to your friends and family.

As they say, it takes a village. And I could sure use your help as I traverse the construction area outside our door! That’s one construction project that can’t be done soon enough.

By: Lindsay Mitchell

ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

BP’S GULF OIL SPILL HAS MANY IMPACTS

Here in the Illinois Corn office, the Gulf oil spill is the thing we’re talking about as we gather around the coffee pot in the mornings. I know we aren’t the only ones.

We’re all concerned about the environmental impacts and we’re disappointed that BP can’t seem to figure out a way to get this leak under control. What will happen to the wildlife, the habitats, the beaches, and the water quality as a result of the millions of gallons of oil that are now in the Gulf? I’m happy to see BP pledge funding to post-oil research on some of the topics, even though I’m not sure it’s enough.

There are some pretty interesting video updates about their recovery efforts here.

Environment aside though, we’re concerned about shipping. What happens when barge and freight traffic can’t exit the Mississippi River? Will New Orleans have to shut down once again? And as if having a record corn crop and not having the infrastructure to get it out of Illinois weren’t enough, what if traffic coming upstream is shut down too? We won’t have fertilizers for our crops, salt for our roads, and a host of other products that Illinois ships upstream on the Mighty Mississippi.

When you add the potential for this billion dollar transportation failure to the environmental fiasco, BP has really screwed up.

BNSF Railway is already gearing up for what might be an infrastructure meltdown and hoping to provide additional rail service to the coasts in order to get products to export. This alternative has a higher cost (financially and environmentally) than our current barge system, but is a viable option.

Kevin Kaufman, BNSF’s Group Vice President, Agricultural Products provides a nice podcast on May 6 where he mentions this fact at about minute 2:45. There are actually a lot of other great podcasts on this site if rail transportation is something you’re interested in.

This is what I know – the need for river transportation on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers has never been greater. Illinois farmers are producing more and more corn and continue to feed a growing export market. Barge transportation for our goods and grain is the most environmentally friendly, economic means of transportation available to Illinoisans. We need MORE river transportation, not less.

Jim Tarmann
Field Services Director and River Transportation Guru