The exciting time for cruising the Great Lakes begins


Weather: La Niňa continues, which means March to May will be slightly cooler than normal. The updated MSU 30-year moving average date (1980-2010) is the spring frost date (28ºF) April 13 and the frost date (32ºF) April 25. The growing season has increased by two weeks since the previous 30-year average spring and fall frost data.

Great Lakes Shipping: The opening of the Great Lakes shipping season is always an exciting time for me and another indication that Spring is here! The article in the Monroe News for Sunday, March 27, 2022 about the Port of Monroe represents an important part of the economy of Monroe and an integral part of shipping on the Great Lakes.

Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada, held its annual “top hat” ceremony on March 24 at Welland Canal lock 8, welcoming the captain of the first freighter to proceed down the Welland Canal. This marks the opening of the new shipping season after the locks were closed during the winter months.

Why are there locks in Ontario? There is a 327-foot elevation difference between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie (think Niagara Falls), which causes ships to pass through eight locks. The locks, which were last upgraded in 1932, can accommodate boats up to 740 feet long, 78 feet wide, and a maximum draft of 26 feet.

“Salties” are boats that cross salt water, perhaps bringing in sugar, and then loaded with other goods like grain from the port of Toledo, like soybeans to Japan, corn to Rotterdam, or wheat to Egypt. Once they exit the St. Lawrence Seaway, they must fill up at an East Coast port like Baltimore before continuing their voyage. Unfortunately, we owe it to the salties that they bring invasive species like the zebra mussel from Europe with their ballast water.

“Lakers” are the boats that reside in the interior of the four Great Lakes. There are 13 1,000 foot vessels that can use the 1,200 foot Poe Lock at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, while smaller boats can use the 800-foot MacArthur Lock. These locks are operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District, which allow ships to travel between Lake Superior and the lower Great Lakes. There is a 21-foot drop of the St. Mary’s River that the locks between Lakes Superior and Huron are designed to circumnavigate.

This year, according to federal law, the Soo floodgates opened at 00:01 on March 25. Once a boat has passed the Soo Locks, it’s an eight-hour trip to Duluth, Minnesota. On average, between 7,000 and 10,000 boats pass through the Soo Locks in a season, moving about 80 million tons of cargo and an estimated 3 percent of that total US domestic product. Congress eventually provided funds to upgrade the disused Sabin and Davis locks into a second 1,200-foot lock, although this work is not expected to be complete until about 2030.

The entire St. Lawrence Seaway is 2,342 miles long from Duluth, Minnesota to the Atlantic Ocean. Grain, iron ore, and coal are the three largest bulk commodities transported through the system. With the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016, the Welland Canal, which was last upgraded 90 years ago, is becoming an increasingly restrictive factor for shipping to and from Michigan and the interior of the Great Lakes.

Ag calendar

March 31: Weed Control MSU Virtual Breakfast Webinar Series. 7-8 p.m.

March 31: USDA Prospective Planting and Quarterly Grain Stocks Report.

7th of April: Soil Fertility MSU Virtual Breakfast Webinar Series. 7-8 p.m.

7th of April: MSU Pesticide Review Class. 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Registration fee $25. MDARD Private and Commercial Core Pesticide Audits; 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. $50 or $75 fee. Register via the MDARD website.

April 14th: Forage Fertility MSU Virtual Breakfast Webinar Series. 7-8 p.m.

April 21: Corn and Soybean Planting Considerations MSU Virtual Webinar Series.

April 28th: Weed/Plant Identification Apps MSU Virtual Webinar Series. 7-8 p.m.

Ned Birkey is an MSU Extension Educator Emeritus and a regular contributor to The Monroe News.


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