The 26,000 members of the American Soybean Association (ASA) strongly support the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) legislation introduced by Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) to provide $2.475 billion for construction of seven new locks and other improvements on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
The bill was co-sponsored by James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Harkin (D-iowa), Jim Talent (R-Mo.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), David Vitter (R-La.), John Warner (R-Va.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Johnny Isakson R-Ga.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
"One of the few remaining advantages U.S. soybean farmers have over our international competitors is an efficient transportation system, particularly an efficient inland waterway system," said ASA President Neal Bredehoeft, a soybean producer from Alma, Mo. "Barge transportation on these waterways is not only the most economical means of transportation, it is also the most environmentally friendly way to move U.S. soybeans to foreign and domestic markets.
Over 75 percent of U.S. soybean exports move to world ports via the Upper Mississippi and Illinois River systems. The lock and dam system on these rivers was constructed nearly 60 years ago during the New Deal era to handle 600-foot barges. Today, most barge tows are 1,200 feet long, requiring the tow to be split and sent through one section at a time. This results in delays that increase transportation costs, resulting in lower commodity prices and fewer international sales for farmers.
"While U.S. farmers are fighting to maintain market share in a fiercely competitive global marketplace, our international competitors are investing in transportation infrastructure," Bredehoeft said. "Argentina has invested over $650 million in their transportation systems to make their exports more competitive. Brazil is reconstructing its water transport network to reduce the cost of shipping soybeans by at least 75 percent.
“Due in large part to these efforts, the two countries have captured 50 percent of the total growth in world soybean sales during the past three years."
Making the necessary upgrades to improve the Mississippi and Illinois waterways would also protect jobs. Navigation on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers supports over 400,000 jobs, including 90,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs.
This legislation authorizes construction of seven new 1,200-foot navigation locks, small-scale navigation improvements, and ecosystem restoration on the upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.
The legislation allocates funds for construction of new 1,200-foot locks at Locks 20, 21, 22, 24 and 25 on the Upper Mississippi and at LaGrange and Peoria Locks on the Illinois.