MOUND CITY, Ill. — When it comes to selling grain, the price
is right in Pulaski County.
Adjacent river terminals operated by Consolidated Grain
& Barge and Archer Daniels Midland typically offer the highest basis price
for corn, soybeans and wheat destined for the Port of New Orleans and points
There are two main reasons: Mound City is near the
confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Also, there are no locks to
impede barge traffic down the Mississippi.
“In general, in the state of Illinois, this is about the
best price you can get, because we’re closer to New Orleans,” said Ryan
Thurston, who manages the ADM facility. “When the export market is hot, this is
the center of your best price. This area usually has one of the highest-price
basis points in the country.”
The terminal draws from producers in portions of three
states: southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri and northwestern Kentucky. The
region stretches from Mount Vernon, Ill., southward through Sikeston, Mo., and
covering the Paducah, Ky., area.
The river terminals are strong components of the county’s
farm makeup. With a population under 6,000, it’s not surprising that agriculture
is a big part of Pulaski County’s economy.
Nearly two-thirds of the area in the county — situated at
the southern tip of Illinois — is farmland. But farming and the grain terminals
aren’t the only connections to agriculture.
The county also is home to a community college with a strong
ag component and a still-unfinished lock and dam project designed to streamline
Nearly 90,000 of the county’s 130,000 acres are in
agricultural production. As is the case in most of Illinois, corn and soybeans
are the main crops.
Wheat also is grown extensively, with 45,000 acres harvested
in 2013. There also is a small amount of grain sorghum, fruits and
Beef cattle make up the majority of livestock production.
Dairy and hog production has dwindled over the past few decades.
The county ranks in the bottom 10 percent in many Illinois
ag statistics, such as corn and soybean production, according to the ag census
compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But it ranks much higher in
categories including wheat production, beef cattle and average cash income per
Shawnee Community College in Ullin — the southernmost
college in Illinois — is the focal point of ag education in the county. About 45
students study agriculture there
“We have a very viable ag program,” said instructor Ed
Billingsley. “It’s growing every year. I’m impressed by the number of kids we
get and the quality of the kids we get.”
Agribusiness and wildlife management studies there are
“They cross over,” Billingsley said. “A lot of our kids take
a few of the classes on both sides. That way, they have a little more diverse
background. Most people who go into agriculture like to dabble in wildlife
The school also offers full-ride scholarships. An active ag
club involves students in a number of activities throughout the year, including
maintaining an on-campus greenhouse where they raise and sell plants.
Most students continuing an ag education at a four-year
school choose between Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Southeastern
Missouri University in Cape Girardeau or Murray State in Murray, Ky.,
The location of the ADM facility has served in some storage
capacity since the late 1970s, when the Hudson family built an elevator. Another
company — Bulk Services — handled the terminal business.
Tabor Grain bought Hudson Grain, and around 1990 ADM
purchased both Bulk Services and Tabor Grain.
Storage is 1.4 million barrels. It handles corn, soybeans,
wheat and a small amount of grain sorghum.
In addition, some non-GMO corn and beans are run through the
facility. The busiest time is from mid-October through mid-November.
With its entire southern side bordering the Ohio River,
water is a vital part of the agriculture industry in Pulaski County. Low water
levels affect barge traffic and high levels can mean flooding.
“Low water is always problematic,” Thurston said. “You have
to have reduced drafts. Normally at this facility, because we don’t have any
locks to go through, we can load 14-foot barges to 12 feet deep, which is full
The drought of 2012 dropped the river level, impeding barge
traffic. In turn, that resulted in increased transportation costs.
“With the low water back in ‘12 were loading only 9 feet, 6
inches — a 3-foot difference,” Thurston said. “That’s several tons you don’t get
on a barge. It takes three barges to put what you usually get on two. As freight
costs increase, that’s reflected in the cash prices by basis levels. As freight
goes higher, basis levels to lower.”
The Olmsted Locks and Dam being constructed under the
auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will replace two aging locks on the
Ohio River. The project is rife with delays and cost overruns.
It originally was estimated to cost $775 million, but now
probably will top $3 billion and won’t be completed until 2024.
Once completed, it is expected to shave five hours off trips
through the locks.