Record-setting just begins the description for the kind of spring 2011 has been for the nation's inland waterways. Blown dykes, busted levees and historic flooding along the Mississippi, Missouri and even in North Dakota has hit the front pages of newspapers across the country. But as the waters recede, farm groups including the American Soybean Association and the National Grain and Feed Association are starting to ask tough questions. Who will fix the damage left behind?
On Friday ASA and NGFA, along with other producer groups, processors and input suppliers, alerted the Congressional Appropriations Committees about the need for added resources to dredge and repai inland waterways that have been damaged by historic high water levels.
Says Steve Wellman, a Syracuse, Neb., soybean producer and ASA first vice president: "Agricultural producers, processors and exporters rely on the entire Mississippi River system and share concern about the impact recent floods in the Midwest will have on the river system. More than 60% of U.S. soybean exports moved to world markets through the Port of South Louisiana via the Mississippi River and its tributaries."
Long an issue for farm groups, the waterways system is already suffering issues of obsolescence. Adding insult to injury would be flood-damaged waterways that become impassable after this spring. The major farm and processor groups point out a modern and efficient inland waterways transportation system is vital to maintaining U.S. agricultural competitiveness in the world market. ASA points out that as the U.S. system continues to face delays and closures attributable to low drafts and crumbling locks and dams, competitors are increasing expenditures on their own transport infrastructures, thereby eroding the competitive advantage long enjoyed by the United States.
Wellman points out that flooding extending from South Dakota through Iowa and Nebraska will require the Army Corps of Engineers to need funds for repairs due to these challenges. He adds that commerce is already impacted by the high currents accumulating silt on the river bottoms, and river pilots continue to impose draft restrictions, one-way traffic and daytime only hours as a result of the current situation.
The Mississippi river The river and its tributaries comprise more than 14,000 miles of navigable waterways—making it a natural distribution system that covers a wide stretch of the continental United States. About 413 million tons of domestic and international cargo is moved annually on the Lower Mississippi River. Louisiana ports exported about $13.4 billion worth of agricultural products in 2009, including grain harvested in the Midwest and shipped via barge for export to world markets.