As Congress considers several transportation issues and measures, including appropriations bills and the potential Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill by the authorizing committees, the American Soybean Association (ASA) is urging support for its top transportation and infrastructure priorities.

“Soybean farmers have a strong interest in ensuring there is a safe and efficient transportation system,” said ASA President Alan Kemper, a soybean farmer from Lafayette, Ind.

“The ability to move soybeans from the farm to processing facilities and our export customers is a significant factor in our bottom line. To maintain our industries’ competitive position in the global market, we must invest in our aging and increasingly inefficient transportation infrastructure.”

Soybeans move by truck, by barge, and by rail, and with approximately 50 percent of the crop exported, soybean farmers are especially impacted by the state of U.S. transportation infrastructure.

The soybean industry is one of few U.S. sectors that provide a positive trade balance and is responsible for a significant number of jobs and economic development, especially in rural America.

“First and foremost, funding must be provided to allow the Lower Mississippi River to remain fully open for commerce,” Kemper said. “The inland waterways navigation system, especially the Mississippi River, is a vital asset in the movement of important commodities such as grain, coal, steel, petroleum and aggregate materials.”

In 2010, approximately 850 million bushels of soybeans were exported from the Mississippi Gulf region. This year, unprecedented levels of high water on the Mississippi River are carrying silt and debris to the mouth of the River.

Emergency situation has developed

As water levels begin to recede, an emergency situation has developed with significant silting and shoaling at the River’s mouth that imminently threatens the ability of vessels to enter and exit the river.

“Dredging of this critical artery must happen immediately, and it is our hope the Administration and Congress will work together to ensure that sufficient funding for dredging is available, including the expeditious enactment of Emergency Supplemental Appropriations funding, if necessary,” Kemper said.

To modernize lock and dam infrastructure on the Upper Mississippi, a long-term plan, such as the Capital Development Plan, which was formulated by the waterways industry and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is needed to improve the program management and provide a sufficient and reliable funding mechanism.

“ASA urges that the Capital Development Plan be included in a Water Title of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill or in a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that is enacted this year,” Kemper said.

ASA also supports the inclusion of provisions in the Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill to maintain the hours-of-service exemption for agricultural producers and to increase weight limits for trucks with six axles.

In agriculture, safety, efficiency, and flexibility are needed to maximize productivity. The hours-of-service exemption and truck weight limit provisions are necessary to meet those needs.

“We urge that these important transportation issues be addressed by Congress to keep soybeans, other commodities, and our overall economy moving,” Kemper said.