U.S. Farmers and Consumers Could Pay if River Locks Fail
Checkoff-funded study finds that inland waterway system continues to deteriorate
Up to 89 percent of U.S. soybeans exported through the lower Mississippi ports, such as the port of New Orleans, arrive there via the locks along the Mississippi River and other U.S. inland waterways. With numbers like this, it’s apparent that these waterways and the locks moving barges through them remain vital to move U.S. soybeans and soy products. A United Soybean Board (USB) Global Opportunities (GO) program-funded study found that deteriorating concrete and failing electrical and mechanical systems of major U.S. locks and dams could cause failures and “…severe economic distress” for U.S. farmers and consumers.
“U.S. farmers should begin to understand that we can produce all of the commodities that we want, but unless we have the infrastructure to ship those products to their final destination, we will not be successful in feeding our country and the world,” says Laura Foell, soybean farmer from Schaller, Iowa, and chair of the GO committee.
More than half of the locks and dams that currently make up the U.S. Inland Marine Transportation System exceed their 50-year usable lifespan, according to the report. More than one-third top 70 years of age, a concern because usually major rehabilitation is necessary to expand the typical lifespan from 50 to 75 years, according to the study.
Just on the Ohio River alone, the time locks have been out of service has more than tripled since 2000, rising from 25,000 hours to 80,000 annually. And that gets expensive. This study shows that a three-month lock closure would increase the cost of transporting 5.5 million tons of oilseeds and grain, the average amount of grain shipped by barge during that period, by $71.6 million. A failure at any of the locks examined by the study could cost U.S. farmers from up to $45 million in lost revenue.
“The lock and dam system is rapidly deteriorating which puts added pressure on the rail and highway system to move our product from the farm to its destination,” adds Foell. “It is important that we have a robust transportation system. Only by using a combination of the lock and dam system, rail system, and truck system can we continue to be able to move our products in a manner that will help us feed the world.”
Click here to read the full “America’s Locks & Dams: A Ticking Time Bomb for Agriculture” study. USB and the checkoff-funded Soy Transportation Coalition plan to examine new and different ways to fund lock and dam and other rural infrastructure improvements later this year.