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Planned Illinois River shutdown poses fresh challenge for farmers

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Sunday, August 18, 2019  |  Article  |  The Center Square

Agriculture (2)
As if the trade war with China and the weather having the entire state declared an agricultural disaster area weren’t enough, Illinois farmers will face a new challenge next year when the Illinois River is closed for several months.

Farmers rely on the Illinois River to bring them supplies and take their goods to markets.

Kirby Wagner, assistant director of infrastructure and transportation for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said that the Army Corps of Engineers will be repairing six locks in the river from July to October.

“These locks are operating well beyond their intended life span,” he said. “So they’re operating under a delay because of the wear and tear. So this closure is necessary.”

Wagner said the Army Corps of Engineers chose July through October for the work because that period is after planting season and before harvest. The plan is to do the work during those months to minimize disruption.

“There’s going to be a shutdown,” he said. “Each lock kind of has a different time schedule, so not every lock will be shut down the entire time, but essentially the river will be closed.”

Wagner said the Farm Bureau is trying to get the word out to farmers and to encourage them to begin planning for alternative ways to transport their products – the two largest in the state being soybeans and corn – to other markets. Even though there is a certain amount of estimating, at this point, what those markets would be.

“It’s hard to get a ballpark (figure),” he said.

For example, if crops in neighboring states are not great next year, Illinois farm products might be marketed there, likely by truck. High demand from the East Coast would signal an increase in railroad transport.

“We’ll keep the farmers going, and once these locks are updated, you’re going to see commodities shipped more efficiently,” Wagner said.