Spring means shipping season on the Great Lakes

Ned Birkey

Now that La Niňa is over, El Niño may affect our weather later this year. One forecast is for a neutral spring, with El Niño forming during the summer of 2023 and persisting through the fall. Another forecast favors a neutral through summer 2023, with elevated chance of El Niño developing afterwards. The near-term ag forecast is for cool and wet conditions to continue for the next 8 to 10 days.This is one sure sign of Spring! Wednesday, March 22 at 8:00 a.m. was the “top hat” ceremony officially celebrating the opening of the Welland Canal for the 2023 shipping season with the first downboard boat from the interior four Great Lakes. The Welland Canal is run by the Saint Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation out of Canada and allows boats to negotiate Niagara Falls and shipping to Lake Erie and beyond. Lake Erie is 326 feet higher than Lake Ontario at this juncture. During the 2022 shipping season, the seaway and U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway said more than 36 million tons of cargo moved through the lakes and canal system. The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan reopened its biggest lock the Poe Lock at 12:01 a.m. on March 25, as set by law. The Soo Locks are run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District. Congress finally appropriated monies through the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 to build a new 1,200-foot lock over the next seven years, set to be complete by 2030. The other working lock, the shorter MacArthur Lock, is scheduled to open April 24. As of March 22, there was only nine percent ice covering of the Great Lakes, all in bays, harbors, etc.The early spring wet weather may cause some farmers to rush field work and planting before soils become warm and dry. This may be a year to consider fungicide applications to corn, soybeans, growing wheat and other crops. The Crop Protection Network publishes fungicide efficacy information for all field crops. Checking these listings for products on your seed may give you a heads up on what diseases may or may not be controlled by certain fungicides already on the seed. Visit This is a great educational resource and many commodity groups and universities are already providing funding for it.Now is still a good time to consider “frost” seeding some red clover into winter wheat. MSU has looked at seeding Mammoth and red clover into winter wheat just prior to green up to get a nitrogen boost, reduce weed pressure, increase soil organic matter, improve soil health and increase water holding capacity. Seeding rates range from six to 18 pounds per acre, with 12 pounds showing the most consistent stand. Once fields dry out, half of the normal spring nitrogen can be applied to winter wheat. Because wheat plants are small, no more than 40 pounds of actual nitrogen needs to be applied at this time. The remaining nitrogen is normally applied at stem elongation or Feekes’ growth stage 6. New research has focused on applying more N, along with plant growth regulators, possibly at Feekes 5 and 7 and a final nitrogen application at Feekes 9. Farmers should only try this on a small portion of their wheat acreage and leave some of this acreage without these treatments for comparison purposes.Christopher Galbraith is the new MSU/OSU vegetable educator and housed in the Monroe Extension office. He will be participating in the MSU vegetable team and newsletter, with additional assignments in Ohio. He can be reached at or 734-240-3178.Lindsey Kerr is the newest consumer horticulture educator for MSU Extension. She is based in Wayne County at the Western Wayne County complex near Metro Airport. Although her primary duties are in Wayne County, she is willing to assist local consumers at lawns green up, homeowners naturally want to get it looking nice, green and thick. However, lawn (and garden) clean up may be the first, best use of time. Raking dead leaves, grass and thatch allows an assessment of the overwintering condition of grass. It is not necessary to remove all thatch, leaving a half inch or less is fine. A nice, sharp blade should be a part of a mower tune up. Remember that phosphorus in a lawn fertilizer has not been legal in Michigan since 2012 due to the algae problem of the western basin of Lake Erie. However, phosphorus can be included in a lawn fertilizer for a newly seeded or sodded lawn or one in which the soil test recommends it.