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Dredging of the Fractured Bedrock-lined Mississippi River Channel at Thebes, Illinois

Published March 25, 2014
Map of  Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois
Map of Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois

A recently-published article by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton explains why the six mile stretch of the Mississippi River near Thebes, Illinois, is the only section of the navigation channel that is bedrock lined, with pinnacles of rock protruding into the shipping channel, making it difficult to dredge. The rest of the entire Mississippi shipping channel is loose unconsolidated sediment.

The ancient Mississippi River was re-aligned by earth quakes and glacial melt waters about 12,000 years ago, making the current narrow Mississippi River valley about 30 miles to the east of the location of the ancient Mississippi River valley. USACE has difficulty maintaining navigation in the shipping channel due to the bedrock lining and the fact that barges sometimes catch on the rock pinnacles.

During the drought of 2012 there were only a few feet of water in the Mississippi River except for the shipping channel, which is 9' deep and 300' wide. Giant excavators and a dragline were loaded on barges and moved out into the shipping channel to remove the rock during the drought of 2012 and early 2013. Shipping of agricultural grain and agricultural inputs on partially filled barges were move through the shipping channel at night, when there were only a few feet of water over the 9' deep and 300' wide channel. By February of 2013, the river rose and the excavators could not reach the remaining rock.

Approximately 70% of the rock was removed in phase 1. A second phase of the project has now started to remove the remaining bedrock pinnacles in the shipping channel and to re-align and widen the north end of the bedrock lined channel to make it easier to turn the long attached barges and keep them in the 300' wide navigation channel and avoid the underlying rock which is 9' closer to the water surface on the other sections of the 2000' wide Mississippi River bottom at Thebes, Illinois.

Feature article entitled  "Dredging of the fractured bedrock-lined Mississippi River Channel at Thebes, Illinois" by Kenneth R. Olson and Lois Wright Morton and in the March-April 2014 issue of  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 2014;69 31A-35A:

Additional Images:
  • Map of  Mississippi River channel near Thebes, Illinois

Webinar to address nitrogen management this spring

Published March 25, 2014

URBANA - While dry weather is allowing nitrogen (N) application to start in some places in Illinois, the ongoing cool temperatures continue to raise questions about N management this spring.

University of Illinois Crop Sciences and the Council on Best Management Practices (C-BMP) are organizing a webinar for Thursday, March 27 at 8:00 AM to address some of these issues, including fate of fall-applied N, use of inhibitors this spring, and how cool soils might affect soil N supply and plant uptake.

Participants will also learn about a program, newly funded by the Nutrient Research & Education Council, to conduct field-scale N rate trials in several dozen fields across Illinois in 2014. Producers interested in hosting such a trial are invited to attend to learn more.

Sign up for the webinar at


Earth Week 2014 at Illinois - April 21-26

Published March 25, 2014

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will celebrate Earth Week on April 21-26. Earth Week is a time to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment, sustainable living and earth awareness.

Several exciting activities on-and-off-campus are being planned for the week. We hope you will join us in celebrating!

Here is an overview of activities, courtesy of the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment:


News Source:

Lezli Cline, 217-244-6254

Reports continue to support corn and soybean prices

Published March 24, 2014

URBANA, Ill. – March is one of four months that contain an unusually large number of reports that reflect supply and demand conditions for corn and soybeans. According to a University of Illinois agricultural economist, the number of reports is larger in January, March, June, and September when various quarterly USDA reports are released.

“So far this month, information in the regular monthly reports has been generally supportive for corn and soybean prices,” said Darrel Good. “The Census Bureau report of January 2014 exports released on March 7 indicated that cumulative marketing-year exports of both crops exceeded the cumulative USDA weekly export inspection estimates. Census Bureau corn export estimates from September 2013 through January 2014 exceeded the cumulative USDA inspection estimates by 29 million bushels. That margin is 10 million less than the average margin of the previous nine years, but is the largest in four years. For soybeans, the cumulative Census Bureau export estimates through January exceeded the cumulative USDA weekly inspection estimates by 19 million bushels. That margin is nine million bushels larger than the average margin of the previous nine years and the largest in four years,” he said. 

The USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report released on March 10 contained smaller forecasts of the size of the current harvest of the soybean crops in both Brazil and Paraguay. That same report contained larger forecasts of U.S marketing-year exports and smaller forecasts of year-ending stocks of both crops. The National Oilseed Processor Association (NOPA) estimate of the soybean crush by its members dropped below that of a year ago in January, but the estimate for February released on March 17 exceeded that of a year ago by about five million bushels. The cumulative soybean crush by NOPA members during the first seven months of the current marketing year also exceeded that of a year ago by nearly five million bushels. The USDA projection is for the marketing-year crush to equal that of last year.

Good said that the USDA’s monthly Cattle on Feed report released on March 21 indicated that feedlots with a capacity of 1,000 head or more placed 15 percent more cattle into feedlots during February 2014 than during February 2013. The total number of cattle on feed as of March 1 was only 0.5 percent less than on the same date last year. While the pace of February placements cannot be maintained into the future because of the limited number of feeder cattle, the larger-than-expected placements will support feed demand in the short run.

In addition to the support found in these monthly reports, Good said that the weekly reports have also been generally supportive for corn and soybean prices. Weekly estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicate that ethanol production in March 2014 is running about 10 percent above production in March 2013. Ethanol crush margins also reached record levels last week. Weekly export reports reveal a pace of new sales and shipments for both crops that exceed the pace required to meet the USDA projections for the year.

“The most important reports for old- and new-crop corn and soybean price prospects are still to come,” Good said. “On March 28, the USDA will release the Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report.  Among other things, this report will reveal the size of the pig crop during the previous quarter (December 2013-February 2014), the inventory of market hogs by weight group as of March 1, and farrowing intentions for the spring and summer months. The estimates will reveal the impact of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PED-V) on the size of the winter pig crop and allow for a projection of pork production for the next year. The estimates will reveal if the recent dramatic increase in hog prices is fully justified and will provide insight into potential feed demand from the hog sector during the last half of the 2013-14 marketing year for corn and soybeans,” he said.

According to Good, on March 31 the USDA will release the quarterly Grain Stocks report, which will reveal the magnitude of stocks of corn and soybeans as of March 1. The estimate of March 1 corn stocks, along with the estimate of the March 1 hog inventory, will be important for  projecting feed and residual use of corn for the current marketing year.

Good added that on March 31 the USDA will release the annual Prospective Plantings report. 

“Based on a farmer survey earlier this month, the report will reveal planting intentions for all major spring-planted crops,” Good said. “Estimates of both total planted acreage and acreage of individual crops will be important. Large prevented planted acreage in 2013 is expected to result in total planting intentions that exceed last year’s acreage. In addition, the generally favorable price of new-crop soybeans relative to other crops, particularly corn, is expected to result in intentions to plant considerably more soybean acreage in 2014 than in 2013.  Intentions for corn are expected to be less than last year’s planted acreage.

“One of the major benefits of the information in this report is to allow producers to adjust their planting intentions to market signals,” Good said. “If soybean planting intentions are near the high end of expectations, new-crop prices will likely have to adjust to encourage fewer acres of soybeans and more acres of other crops. The size of the price adjustment, if any, needed to alter intentions may also be influenced by spring weather conditions. Prospects for a late planting season, for example, might require a larger price adjustment to discourage soybean acreage and motivate more corn acres.”


Soil temperatures and spring prospects

Published March 20, 2014
soil temps

URBANA, Ill. – With hopes that we’ve seen the last of the snow by now, but both air and soil temperatures remain below average in Illinois heading into the second half of March, said a University of Illinois crop sciences researcher.

Emerson Nafziger said that soils froze deeper than normal this past winter and stayed cold into March. Frost is only now disappearing in the northern parts of Illinois, which accounts for their staying cold even during a sunny day.

“Hopes that such deep freezing will relieve soil compaction from last year may not be realized, while repeated freezing and thawing results in repeated formation of ice crystals that force soil particles apart,” he said. “Soils that stay frozen, don’t repeat this cycle often enough to do much good. The freezing and thawing of the surface soils that we’re seeing now will help loosen them some, but we can’t expect that effect to extend more than a few inches deep.”

According to the Illinois State Water Survey (, minimum temperatures 4 inches deep under bare soil ranged from the low 30s in northern Illinois to the mid-30s in southern Illinois the morning of March 17. There was some sunshine on that date, and soils warmed to the upper 40s to low 50s in southern Illinois, but stayed in the low 30s in the northern part of the state.

Although having soil temperatures only in the 30s this late in March is somewhat unusual, Nafziger said March soil temperatures have varied over the years. At Champaign, March soil temperatures at 4 inches deep have ranged  from the 30s to the 60s just over the past five years, from an average of 36/39 (minimum/maximum) in 2013 to 60/66 in 2011. Rainfall totals ranged from 1.47 inches in 2013 to 5.38 inches in 2011. Still, delays in planting have been more related to April rainfall than on conditions in March.

When it comes to getting soils to dry out, is warm and wet better or worse than cold and dry?

“Because water has a higher heat capacity than soil mineral matter, cold soils do not dry out very fast and wet soils do not warm up very fast. We have seen some of the standing water in fields drain out this past week as soils thaw, but the drying process will be very slow until soil temperatures start to increase,” Nafziger explained. “Water loss rates are affected by soil texture and water content, but we would expect wet soil to lose a tenth of an inch or so of water in a day if the average soil temperature is 40 degrees and at least twice that amount if the average soil temperature is 60 degrees. So having soils warm up is the key to enabling them to dry out, though it has to stop raining for soils to dry, of course.”

While having low soil temperatures at this point in March may not produce a lot of optimism that planting will start early, Nafziger said it is also not a very good predictor of how the spring will go, or what kind of season growers will have. “If we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that what happens during the summer matters much more to the crop than what happens in March and April. We simply need to be ready to do fieldwork and plant as soon as conditions permit,” he said.

The likely delay in the start of field work this year may mean re-prioritizing operations once soils dry out. It has been common in wetter springs for the application of anhydrous ammonia to get under way before soils are considered fit to till or plant. “That worked okay last year when soil compaction due to weather patterns did not cause much problem for the crop. But we can’t count on that, and compaction from applying fertilizer or doing tillage in wet soils can leave soils in worse condition than before, even if the surface looks a little drier afterwards,” Nafziger explained.

As a reminder, planting in early April almost never produces yields higher than planting in late April and can lower yields even when stands are good, he cautioned. Planting in early April into good soil conditions, with soil temperatures expected to be on the rise after planting, is a sound practice, especially when there are a lot of acres to plant and starting early is the only way to finish on time.

“But ‘mudding’ corn into wet or marginally wet but cool soil conditions in early April is almost always a bad idea, with considerably more potential to do harm than to do good,” Nafziger said.