R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: U of I welcomes new agronomist

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Giovani Preza Fontes, University of Illinois Extension assistant professor and field crops agronomist (Photo courtesy of U of I Extension)

This week’s hand-picked harvest of farm and rural news includes information on low river levels again hampering barge movements on the Mississippi River, and speculation on the future of carbon-based farm conservation programs. For this and more, please read on …


Low river level closes Mississippi River — again

URBANA — Drought has again closed a portion of the Mississippi River, shrinking a part of the major U.S. waterway in Memphis to its lowest level in recorded history. The water level in Memphis fell to a reading of negative 10.77 feet, lower than the previous low of negative 10.70 set in 1988, according to the National Weather Service.

According to Bloomberg news service, the river was closed on Oct. 17 about 125 miles northeast of Memphis, near Hickman, Kentucky, for dredging to remove debris from the river bottom. There were three vessels and 51 barges waiting in the queue at Hickman, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. Earlier in the month the river was closed near Stack Island, Mississippi.

U.S. soybean exports are trailing their normal autumn pace despite rising supplies from an accelerating harvest, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, due to low river levels slowing the flow of grain barges to export terminals. Corn exports are also lagging their typical harvest-time rate, USDA export inspections data revealed.

In addition, U.S. winter wheat exports are lagging. With planting roughly halfway complete, the 2023 U.S. hard red winter wheat crop is already being hobbled by drought in the heart of the southern plains, Reuters news service reported.

Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford said outlooks into the first week of November are leaning wetter than normal, which is good news for drought-stricken parts of the state. “With that said, it will take much more than a week or two of wet weather to bring river levels up closer to normal, so it is likely we’ll be dealing with navigation issues through the rest of fall,” Ford stated on Friday, Oct. 21. (University of Illinois/Farm Policy News)


Speculation on carbon funding repeal heating up

PEORIA — Last week the Illinois Sustainable Agriculture Partnership issued its first-ever “Cover Crop Incentive Directory” designed to help farmers select a cover crop program that provides the best financial incentive for their operations. As the nation’s midterm elections inch closer, however, speculation is heating up about the future of many federally funded conservation programs and, especially, President Biden’s historic $2.8 billion investment in climate-smart farming, if Republicans gain control on both sides of the aisle.

“There has been a pretty significant investment in the rollout of climate-smart commodity projects, and if those are not fully negotiated and contracted then are they potentially (in jeopardy)?” asked Jean Brokish, Midwest deputy director for American Farmland Trust (AFT), a founding member of ISAP, theoretically. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but it is something that we’re aware of and thinking about.”

Discussions are centering on whether corporate sustainability programs centered on carbon credits that farmers help provide will also be in jeopardy in the event of a midterm shift in Congress. “Will it be a case of the appetite for it going away, or maybe it becomes more regulatory? This is all speculation at this point, but these are interesting conversations that people are having right now,” said Brokish, during a recent phone interview.

There are currently 15 Illinois-led climate-smart conservation projects related to agriculture benefiting from first-round funding via Biden’s executive action on climate change. They are led by a variety of partners including ADM, the National Association of Soil and Water Districts and the National Fish and Wildlife Association.


U of I welcomes new agronomist

URBANA — Speculation on who would take the place of Extension crop expert and Professor Emeritus Emerson Nafziger was settled with the appointment of Giovani Preza Fontes as the new assistant professor and field crops Extension agronomist with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Fontes is a U of I alum who noted that he is “thrilled to be back in Illinois to serve U of I students and agricultural stakeholders through teaching, research, and extension.”

Fontes was born and raised in Midwestern Brazil, in the state of Mato Grosso, the top soybean producer in Brazil. He received a B.S. in Agronomy from the Federal University of Mato Grosso.

“Today’s big challenge is to produce enough food while conserving our soils and natural resources. As an agronomist, my research interests are diverse, but I am especially interested in enhancing nutrient use efficiency so we can produce crops with fewer inputs, or more crops without more inputs,” said Fontes. “I look forward to working with producers, associations, and input suppliers as I develop my research program. I am lucky to have my predecessor, Professor Emeritus Emerson Nafziger, to work with as I gear up to work in the great agricultural state of Illinois. I look forward to knowing you all in the coming months.” (U of I College of ACES news)


Universities launch farm success study

NORMAL — A collaboration between Illinois universities will study the factors of a successful farm operation and barriers to beginning farmers through a new survey farmers are being asked to participate in. The survey, sponsored by Illinois State University, the University of Illinois and others, will gather anonymous information about the benefits people gain from farming, and the barriers and supports they have for their work. The research will help policy makers, agencies, and farm groups to understand whether there are barriers to farm ownership, activity, and success faced by people in the state, according to a news release promoting the survey.

Survey organizers are looking for 500 farmers in Illinois to take the survey. Respondents can choose to receive a $20 Amazon gift card for participating. To take the survey, click the link here https://bit.ly/ILFarmSuccess or contact Susan Graybill at farmsuccess@ilstu.edu to have a paper survey and return envelope sent to you.


Illinois Farm Fact:

The entire lower Ohio River Basin, from just west of Louisville to Cairo, Illinois, has had less than three quarters of an inch of rain since early September. (Trent Ford/Illinois State Climatologist)