This week’s farm and rural news roundup examines the tragic multi-vehicle pileup on Illinois’ I-55 on May 1, and its possible connections to agricultural field practices. We also look at corn and soybean planting pace and more in your weekly source for rural news and views. Please read on …
ISP: I-55 dust storm not so unusual
CHICAGO — The sweeping dust storm that enveloped Interstate 55 south of Springfield on May 1 resulting in several traffic-related fatalities was not an entirely unprecedented weather event, an Illinois State Police source told a Chicago television news channel. ISP Major Ryan Starrick told NBC 5 of Chicago the cause of the crash was “excessive winds blowing dirt from farm fields across the highway leading to zero visibility.”
“My heart goes out to the families,” Starrick said. “My heart goes out to anybody that found themselves involved in this particular situation. It sounds like due to the low visibility, the high winds, everything just came together, unfortunately, on this particular stretch of I-55.”
The trooper said that tillage performed by farm machinery likely contributed to the tragedy by churning up large torrents of dust and debris which blew across the roadway, stating that such scenarios are “not uncommon.”
“This has happened before in various parts of the state of Illinois, where unfortunately due to excessive high winds, that once the farmers have turned the field, the topsoil or the dirt that’s on top there gets loose,” Starrick said. “It’s extremely dry, and due to the excessive winds of the area, will blow across certain roadways.”
A dust warning was issued for some counties in the area. The warning remained in effect most of the day in Sangamon, Christian and Shelby counties. The following day, May 2, the ISP and the Illinois Department of Transportation shuttered I-55 between milepost 63 and milepost 82 due to extreme winds creating low visibility and dangerous driving conditions.
Corn planting outpaces historic average
SPRINGFIELD — At 40 percent planted as of May 1, Illinois’ corn crop was a full 11 percentage points ahead of the state’s historic planting pace average of 29 percent for the date. In addition, soybeans planted reached 39 percent, compared to the five-year average of 15 percent. Coming off a cool week, topsoil moisture supply was rated just 2 percent very short, 10 percent short, 69 percent adequate and 19 percent surplus. Subsoil moisture supply was rated 2 percent very short, 11 percent short, 70 percent adequate and 17 percent surplus.
Doug Gucker, Extension crop specialist in Piatt, DeWitt and Macon counties, said moderately dry conditions there as of May 5 enabled area farmers to complete nearly all of their corn planting. “Like many we are very dry. Despite the cool weather, the last few fronts that have passed through over the last few weeks have not left much more than a few tenths of rain. That coupled with the windy conditions, has really dried things out,” Gucker reported in the University of Illinois’ weekly Crop Central report.
“We are on the downhill side of full season corn and soybean planting with the only major slowdown in planting has been some cooler weather, however, that pattern is supposed to break for more spring-like temperatures. There are some corn and soybean fields up, but just barely enough that you can row them from the road. Even the earliest planted has been very slow to emerge with the cool weather and lows still dropping to near 40 degrees some nights. Wheat is appreciating the dry weather and modest temperatures and is looking very good. Hopefully, we will catch some rain here in the next week!”
Local Food Act heads to state Senate
SPRINGFIELD — The Local Foods Infrastructure Grant Act has passed in the Illinois House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate for discussion and voting. The Act, championed by Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, and Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, would help farmers, food businesses, livestock processors, cooperatives and municipalities purchase equipment for processing, milling, refrigeration, distribution, food hubs and community kitchens.
“Nearly all Midwest states have similar state-funded grant programs to grow the local food economy. With this new grant program, Illinois can follow their lead,” said Kathleen Mueller, senior policy organizer for the Illinois Stewardship Alliance. Mueller is urging people to contact their state senator and urge them to vote “yes” for House Bill 54/Senate Bill 2432, which would leverage a $2 million state grant program to fund the infrastructure needed to scale up local food supply chains. (ISA news)
Poultry shows return to ISF
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Agriculture announced last week that poultry shows will return for the 2023 fair season — including the Illinois State Fair — after Avian influenza grounded the in-person showing of birds in 2022. “We have seen a decline in highly pathogenic avian influenza cases over the last several months prompting the Department to lift the ban of poultry shows at our fairs,” said Dr. Mark Ernst, IDOA State Veterinarian. “We still want to remind our exhibitors to practice good biosecurity on your farm and monitor your flock for signs of disease, especially the birds you plan to exhibit for 14 days prior to the show.”
The Illinois country fair season kicks off on May 30 in Greene County. The Illinois State Fair runs Aug. 10-20. (Illinois e-News)
Barge traffic suspended again; USACE looks at ‘lessons learned’
- LOUIS — As barge traffic on the upper Mississippi River from the Quad Cities up into Minnesota remains closed due to flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rock Island District is looking at “lessons learned” to prevent future closures of the waterway in times of drought conditions. In addition to dredging and working with the ag industry to manage portions of the river, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor said the Corps is continuing to develop a “long-term strategy” for drought contingency planning across all the inland waterway systems it oversees.
Making his case during a 2024 proposed budget hearing, Connor said the service this year is leaning on “lessons learned” from that period to “try and ensure that the next drought doesn’t have a steep impact.” He added that when Mississippi River levels fall as low as they did last year, there is “significant immediate economic impact” because “you can’t efficiently move product. That reverberates (in) the agricultural community.” (Illinois Farm Bureau news)
Illinois Farm Fact:
The Army Corps’ total $7.41 billion FY 2024 budget request is its largest ever, one that would spend over $2 billion on general construction, including $1.726 billion worth of improvements to coastal and Great Lakes ports via the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and over $1 billion on inland waterways. (Illinois Farm Bureau news)