R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Stakeholders laud lock and dam reopenings

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Workers put some finishing touches on a miter gate frame in the chamber of the Starved Rock Lock and Dam on Oct. 10. The lock is expected to open this week after undergoing maintenance and repairs since June, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

As harvest wraps up in parts of Illinois, many farmers are increasing fall wheat planting to take advantage of higher prices. Also making news this week: the window is closing for pig farmers to apply for two livestock-specific pandemic relief programs, and beginning agriculture teachers in Illinois are benefitting from new grant programs. For more details on these stories and more, please read on …


Wheat prices, early harvest spurs planting

BLOOMINGTON — An early harvest in much of Illinois is helping growers to take advantage of higher prices paid for wheat by increasing or beginning winter wheat acreage. As of Oct. 18 Illinois growers had planted 73 percent of their wheat crop, compared to the average pace of 55 percent nationally. One-fourth of the Illinois crop has already shown emergence, according to the Oct. 19 USDA-NASS Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report.

“We’ve had a very busy season,” Dale Wehmeyer, president and founder of AgriMAXX Wheat in St. Clair County, said last week. “There’s a lot of interest in wheat this year as prices moved up, which definitely caught farmers’ attention.”

Nick Harre, a certified crop adviser and researcher for Purdue University, grows double-crop soybeans in Washington County, which is the top winter wheat producing county in the state. In an ILSoyAdvisor post dated Oct. 15, Harre explained the advantages of planting winter wheat:

“We take advantage of a growing season that allows us to raise not only full-season crops, but also to plant and harvest two crops from the same acreage in one year. We plant wheat in the fall, harvest it the next summer and plant soybeans for fall harvest. This process keeps crops growing on and protecting our soils all year long. We can also supply more bushels to the market and spread the risk of our farm business,” Harre said. (USDA, Ill. Farm Bureau, ILSoyadvisor.com)


IPPA: Act now to receive livestock pandemic grants

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Pork Producers Association issued a reminder to its members that the window to apply for one of two livestock-specific pandemic grant programs under the federal CARES Act is closing this week. Pig farmers who experienced monetary losses and incurred expenses due to the disruption of the livestock market by the COVID-19 pandemic may apply for the Agriculture Business Interruption Program. The program is also open to producers of cattle, lambs, poultry and meat goats who incurred pandemic-related expenses during the period of April 15 through May 15, 2020. This program is capped at $10,000 per applicant.

In addition, livestock owners and producers may apply for funding under the Swine Depopulation Program, which reimburses farmers for losses experienced as the result of a Depopulation and Disposal Event that occurred on or after April 15, 2020 due to the pandemic. A DDE occurred if swine was destroyed in a seven-day period at a single location due to market chain disruption.

Applicants may apply for only one of the two programs, which are administered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, before the Oct. 31 deadline.


New ag teachers benefit from grants

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — As Illinois continues to face an agricultural education teacher shortage, one group is tackling the issue through a grant program for beginning ag teachers.

This month, four new ag teachers in Illinois were selected to receive recognition as recipients of this teacher grant: Aaron Slack, Paxton Buckley Loda High School, Paxton; Katlyn Post, Central Burlington High School, Burlington; Harley Carlson, Central Community High School, Breese; Jerry Brockett, Meridian High School, Macon. Each teacher was selected based on excellent efforts in the classroom, as well as strong short- and long-term personal and program goals.

Local schools, in compliance with COVID safety guidelines, helped orchestrate surprise announcements for each teacher recipient. “It’s so great to get the students and the community involved in recognizing their new ag teacher,” said Susan Moore, director, IAA Foundation. “It’s just one more way to reinforce that the ag community stands behind our educators.”

The Illinois Farm Bureau, through its charitable arm, the IAA Foundation, created the Illinois Agricultural Education Teacher Grant Program. The IFB provided seed money to begin the program and the IAA Foundation will administer the program, while actively seeking more funding partners to continue adding new groups of first year teachers into the grant program. All told, the program hopes to fund 32 teachers over a 12-year timeframe.

Illinois agricultural education teachers completing their first year in the classroom are eligible to apply for this grant. The amount of the grant payment will increase over the course of the teacher’s first five years in the classroom, up to $10,000 total in personal income, if they remain active as an agricultural education teacher in the state of Illinois. More program information can be found online at www.iaafoundation.org under “Our Mission at Work.” (IAA Foundation news release)


Stakeholders laud lock and dam reopenings

BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Waterways Council Inc are celebrating the completion of major lock and dam rehabilitation projects on the Illinois River that have reopened the waterway from Starved Rock to the Mississippi River. The price tag for the repair work: around $200 million, according to the Army Corps of Engineers and the WCI. However, the work is not yet complete in modernizing locks to accommodate larger payloads.

“We currently have 69 locks that are over 80 years old, and each lock is designed to last 50 years,” said WCI president and CEO, Tracy Zea, of locks within the U.S. inland waterway system. “The upgrades are necessary because it allows our farmers to compete in the foreign marketplace.”

Bill Leigh, ICGA president, said the next wave of upgrades must extend tow chambers to 1,200 feet to allow modern tows to pass through without having to break in half, which reduces efficiency and speed of transport. “Access to a newly maintained system will be a very exciting prospect for Illinois farmers along the Illinois River,” he said. (ICGA news)


Illinois Farm Fact:

In 2018, a total of 83 million tons of freight valued at $13.2 billion moved on Illinois’ waterways system. (Waterways Council Inc)