(Posted Wed. Sep 14th, 2011)
By Garry Niemeyer, NCGA First Vice President
Sept. 14: In recent years, many farmers have seen good prices and plentiful crops, allowing us to purchase some much needed new equipment. However, we know that tough times usually follow and there will be years we have to make do with what we have, not matter how much we need to replace it. Our nation’s infrastructure is in some wayslike that worn out equipment. Whether its locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi, bridges on interstates or the road to town, we need to address our country’s crumbling infrastructure.
We are all aware that our nation is in serious financial trouble and hence, we cannot afford to replace the entire existing infrastructure. But we do need to have a plan to address how we transport our commodities and our inputs in a safe, efficient and affordable way now and in the future.
The country’s inland navigation system plays a critical role in the nation’s economy, moving more than a billion tons of domestic commerce valued at more than $300 billion per year. In addition, more than one billion bushels of grain, or roughly 60 percent of all grain exports, move to export markets via the inland waterways each year. Investment in the Upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers 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. The locks are outdated and deteriorating.
When it comes to the waterways, the top priority for the National Corn Growers Association is seeing new construction move forward on the seven projects in the Upper Mississippi lock system that were authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act: Mississippi L&D 25, 24, 22, 21, 20, and LaGrange and Peoria on the Illinois River. These lock upgrades would require a total of 48 million person hours from skilled trades throughout the Midwest.
As President Obama and Congress turn their attention to job creation, we hope these projects will rise to the highest level of priority. We appreciate that President Obama mentioned investment in waterways in his jobs bill andwe hope he pushes for investment in the lock system on the Upper Mississippi. Likewise, we hope Congress can see beyond partisan views and understand the importance of an updated waterways system to farmers across our country and to promote job creation.