National Corn Growers Association representatives last week traveled to the Panama Canal to explore improvements currently underway with a group of agricultural leaders organized by Informa Economics.
During this investigative tour, the group looked at efficiencies in the Panama Canal improvements, particularly those to the locks system, in an attempt to find successful approaches that could be emulated in the United States. Focusing on the critical need for improvements to the locks and dams on northern sections of the Mississippi River, the group looked at how the Panamanian Canal Authority is managing to accomplish such a large project for a reasonable price tag while remaining both on time and on budget. Analyzing the similarities and differences between the current situation in Panama and projections for the needed improvements on the Mississippi, the group noticed practices which could improve upon the current structure and system for waterway infrastructure upgrading in the United States.
Participants noted that the canal improvements, which are funded using revenue generated by operations instead of government funding, have not only been executed within project parameters but should also be completed much more quickly than similar projects in the United States.
“The lack of government bureaucracy involvement in the improvements to the canal reduced the time which it will take to only seven years total,” said Don Glenn, Alabama Soybean and Corn Association Director, who traveled with NCGA Director of Production, Stewardship and Livestock Max Starbuck. “Back home, it might take that long to complete all of the necessary studies. The amazing efficiency with which the canal is run shows some advantages of privatization. We should really consider ways to mimic these advantages when considering how to finally make the much-needed upgrades on the Upper Mississippi.”
Glenn also noted that, while this project has not had government supervision similar to that in the United States, the canal authority designed the project with many measures to help preserve the area’s environment including a program that replants two trees for every one removed during renovations and relocates any animals found in the locks to their natural habitats.
“It is extremely important that NCGA participates in these sorts of activities,” Glenn said. “By observing ways in which the rest of the world handles tasks similar to our own, we can find ways to improve our own industry, and the structures supporting it, back home. People have traveled to the United States to study and then imitate efficiencies in our society for many years. It is time that we did the same.”
The tour also included a presentation on the livestock feed industry that looked specifically at feed, corn, distillers grains and soybean imports, many of which were from U.S. producers. Noting that many of these products are now coming into Panama through a new port, the presenter explained that many importers chose this location despite higher unloading costs as it so greatly increased the efficiency of their trade and reduced transportation costs overall.