PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A looming railroad worker strike could derail the Central Illinois farm economy.

After nearly three years of negotiations, 12 labor unions and national freight railroad companies have until Friday to make a deal to prevent more than 150,000 workers from going on strike.

President Joe Biden’s Presidential Emergency Board in August recommended a tentative deal of 24% compounded wage increases by 2024, with a 14.1% increase effective immediately, and $5,000 bonuses.

Patrick Kirchhofer, manager at Peoria County Farm Bureau, said the farm industry cannot function without railroads.

“Railroads are very important to the farm industry. They haul corn out to feedlots in the east and the west part of the nation, and they also haul ethanol down to the gulf states, where it’s blended with regular petroleum,” he said.

Railroads are much more efficient than semi-trucks.

“The farm economy, we depend on the railroads to haul our products. Corn and soybeans, they are high volume products and rail transportation, it can haul high volume compared to trucks,” said Kirchhofer.

Kirchhofer said one semi-truck can transport 8000 gallons of liquid ethanol fuel and one train rail car will carry 29,000 gallons of ethanol.  A complete 96 rail car train can move nearly 2.8 million gallons of ethanol.

Under normal test weights, Kirchhofer said a semi-truck can haul nearly 1,000 bushels of corn. Train rail cars can haul 4,000 bushels of corn, and a 110 railcar train can move 440,000 bushels of corn.

“So you can see the efficiency of hauling by rail versus truck… We need to get the issue resolved because the farm community and our whole economy depends on the rails to carry our products,” he said.

Kirchhofer said the domino effect of halting the nation’s railways will affect local farmers within weeks.

“Since corn is used to make ethanol, the ethanol plants are going to fill their grain bins up with corn.  And if they don’t have a way to get rid of the ethanol transported out quickly enough, they’ll just have to shut their elevators down from taking corn or grain from the farmers… They have no way to grind and process that corn into ethanol,” he said.

And with fall harvest on the horizon, Kirchhofer said the timing of a potential strike couldn’t be worse.

“The farm community, we hope they get it resolved as quickly as possible. We’re only three to four weeks away from major harvesting in the Peoria area and in the Midwest.  We have a great corn crop that’s coming along and the soybeans are going to be excellent too,” said Kirchhofer.

Kirchhofer compared the potential repercussions of the shutdown of grain transportation across Europe due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’ve seen in Europe how a shutdown of transportation can impact the whole economy. That would happen here also, so hopefully they can get it resolved as quickly as possible, especially with harvest just on the horizon here in the Midwest,” he said.

The American Association of Railroads estimates a loss of $2 billion dollars per day if the strike happens.