Locks and dams crucial for the future of ag

The National Corn Growers Association joined a well-timed effort to let the nation’s politicians know that farmers and their allies are paying attention to their positions on funding for essential lock and dam improvements along the Mississippi River. To determine how to best structure a strategic educational campaign on the issue, NCGA President Garry Niemeyer, NCGA staff and key industry stakeholders met in Quincy, Ill., for a discussion covering the importance of the actual improvements and the best way in which to move forward as a unified front.

“Our inland waterway system plays a crucial role in the nation’s economy, and we must act now to help our future leaders understand that funding improvements is critical to maintaining their viability,” said Niemeyer. “Acting together, we can magnify our voices, and thus our effectiveness, exponentially. Achieving our goal is not only important for farmers and shippers, our nation as a whole will benefit from the job creation and shipping efficiencies this project would generate.”

Representatives from commodity organizations, shippers, barge operators and the Waterways Council, Inc. decided to move forward, under the leadership of WCI, in the creation of a structured plan that places an emphasis on sustained, enthusiastic pursuit of express goals. Now, WCI will review an action proposal by former Illinois Congressman Jerry Weller, of the U.S. Strategies Corporation, and Phil Bradshaw, an Illinois farmer. Notably, NCGA CEO Rick Tolman represents NCGA on the board of this organization.

The country’s inland navigation system moves more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year. More than one billion bushels of grain, about 60% of all grain exports, move to export markets via the inland waterways each year.

Investment in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Waterways has not kept pace with the needs of the transportation sector. The lock system is approaching 80 years old and cannot accommodate modern barging practices that use 1,100 foot barge-tows. Many of the locks are only 600 feet long, forcing barges to use the time-consuming and dangerous double-locking procedure. The locks are outdated and deteriorating.

Corn growers have been long-time advocates for improvements to the inland waterway system. Following the passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, which provides authorization for construction of seven locks on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers as well as immediate implementation of small-scale measures and the creation of a major ecosystem restoration program, NCGA has remained focused on obtaining construction dollars through the annual appropriations process.

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