R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Corn, soy growers celebrate lock project

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

A tug pushes barges toward the Peoria lock and dam on May 10. Several locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers will be upgraded with construction lasting until 2034. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

Decades of perseverance paid off for members of Illinois Corn, whose advocacy for crucial lock and dam upgrades on Illinois waterways was celebrated during a groundbreaking ceremony last week. We have details on this and more for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers …


Corn, soy growers celebrate lock project

WINFIELD, Mo. — After decades of creating awareness and lobbying for crucial lock and dam upgrades to the upper Mississippi River system, current leaders of the Illinois Corn Growers Association gathered on May 18 at lock and dam No. 25 near Winfield, Missouri to celebrate the future opening of the new, 1,200-foot structure.

Some of the farmer-leaders present for the groundbreaking had been advocating on behalf of Illinois growers for nearly three decades. They included former ICGA and National Corn Growers Association leader Garry Niemeyer from Auburn, who recalled hours, days, and weeks of advocacy for upgraded locks and dams.

“When we would walk into a Congressional office with a member of the carpenter’s union, sometimes the member would be surprised to see us working together. But I’m a farmer and I needed to move my grain. He’s representing guys and gals that needed jobs. This is a project that we both needed and I’m excited to see progress being made today,” Niemeyer said.

Jim Tarmann, ICGA managing director, said that corn growers will actually realize a profit boost from the new lock and dam’s presence.  “Over time, we’ve done analysis on the cost of inefficiencies on a per-lock basis. Those costs change, but it’s about a penny to a penny and a half per bushel per lock. By the time we upgrade all seven locks, farmers are gaining about 8-10 cents per bushel of efficiency to the system and they should see at least a penny per bushel in gained efficiency when the new 1,200-foot Lock 25 at Winfield is operational,” said Tarmann, who has advocated for lock and dam expansion for most of his career.

Lock and dam No. 25 is the first construction project within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, who also attended the event. The NESP program calls for the construction of seven new locks — five north of St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi River (Nos. 25, 24, 22, 21, and 20) and two on the Illinois River (LaGrange and Peoria). The Army Corps estimates the project will be completed in 2034.

“One of the reasons our inland waterways are so unique is that they are adjacent to some of the most productive farmland on the planet. As a result, many farmers throughout the country have close access to a marine highway that can effectively transport soybeans, grain, and other commodities to export terminals, which allows us to be so competitive. It is therefore a most welcome development to move forward with the enhancement of such a critical link in agriculture’s supply chain,” said Steenhoek.


U of I announces Agronomy Field Days

URBANA — The University of Illinois Department of Crop Science’s Agronomy Days 2023 will feature a mix of traditional field days, on-farm tailgates, and shade-tree talks. Building on the success of a switch to a multi-location, mult-date format last year, Agronomy Days 2023 will again provide attendees behind-the-scenes looks at crop science research as it’s happening. June events include the U of I’s Small Grains Field Day at the South Farm Research and Education Center in Savoy on June 2, and the Summer Horticulture Field Day at the Graham and Coventry Family Farm on June 8.

“We expect to add events regularly throughout the season, and have some exciting days planned. Folks should definitely keep an eye on our calendar all summer long,” said Nick Seiter, research assistant professor and faculty Extension specialist in crop sciences and co-chair of the Agronomy Days committee. “We look forward to welcoming folks to learn and share with us during Agronomy Days 2023.”

A schedule of Agronomy Days 2023 events can be viewed at www.agronomyday.web.illinois.edu/events/.


Planting pace remains ahead of schedule

SPRINGFIELD — The pace of planting and emergence for both corn and soybeans in Illinois remained well ahead of pace heading into late May. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, corn planted in Illinois had reached 84 percent, compared to the five-year average of 63 percent, by the week ending May 14. Corn emerged had reached 45 percent, compared to the five-year average of 34 percent. Soybeans planted reached 77 percent, compared to the five-year average of 45 percent. Soybeans emerged reached 38 percent compared to the five-year average of 18 percent. In addition, NASS reported that winter wheat “headed” was at 74 percent, compared to the five-year average of 56 percent, on May 14.


Planting conditions vary across state

On May 19, University of Illinois Extension agriculture educator Talon Becker said conditions in central Illinois were conducive to farmers finishing their planting at an earlier than usual date. “Most fields in the area are planted and emerged. The crop looks to be off to a good start in most fields, with the exception of a few low spots where water is or was recently standing following the rains earlier this month. With minimal rain and some warmer temperatures in the near-term forecast, farmers in the area will likely finish up any planting and replanting they have to do in the next week or so,” Becker said of conditions in and around Champaign County.

In Monroe County south of St. Louis, however, a lack of timely and widespread precipitation is causing concern for some growers. “Most of our area has finally received some rainfall over the last week, but it has been scattered and highly variable,” reported Nathan Johanning, Extension commercial agriculture educator.

“I have had reports of a few tenths to a few inches across the county. Much of the area has gotten about three-fourths to one inch, however, there is a band through the central part of the county that has only gotten a few tenths at best and even that was scattered across multiple days. I have a corn demonstration plot planted May 3 that after two weeks has barely emerged, and soybeans planted that same time, again with very spotty emergence.  Widespread rain is greatly needed. For those that have caught rain, crops responded almost overnight in growth,” Johanning added. (Becker, T. “Illinois Crop Update – May 19, 2023.” Department of Crop Sciences, University of Illinois)


Illinois Farm Fact:

Most every bushel of soybeans, corn, and other grain transported along the Mississippi River from the states of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin will pass through Lock and Dam No. 25 en route to export facilities near the Gulf of Mexico. (Soy Transportation Coalition)