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Farmers To Benefit From Upgrades On Mississippi River, But More Needed

Barges like these, seen on the Mississippi River at Bellevue, Iowa, carry grain to Louisiana where it is stored and then loaded onto ocean-going ships. The channel for those ships will be deepened, allowing for heavier loads.
Amy Mayer
/
Harvest Public Media file photo
Barges like these, seen on the Mississippi River at Bellevue, Iowa, carry grain to Louisiana where it is stored and then loaded onto ocean-going ships. The channel for those ships will be deepened, allowing for heavier loads.

Midwest grain will reach foreign markets faster thanks to a channel-deepening project in the Lower Mississippi River that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced will begin this year. 

While that’s one bit of good news for infrastructure, it doesn’t make it any more likely other projects will follow. 

A Senate committee passed an infrastructure bill last July with bipartisan support, but Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the finance committee, says funding it will be a heavy lift. 

“And both from Republican and Democrat leaders there doesn’t seem to be any support for raising the gas tax. So if you don’t raise the gas tax, then where do you go?”

Grassley says there’s a “grab bag” of ideas to raise some money, but not enough to pay for the $93-$110 billion package. 

Still, Grassley says that won’t have any impact on the effort to dig the channel downstream from Baton Rouge to a consistent depth of 50 feet. That money’s already been put aside. 

Mike Steenhoek of the Soy Transportation Coalition says the project will allow ocean-going ships to take on more Midwest grain in each load they pick up. 

“You can not only load current vessels heavier with more freight, but you can attract some of these larger vessels that are becoming more typical in the international ocean trade.”

Steenhoek says when the project is completed in five to six years it will help modernize the shipping system. But he adds that locks and dams upstream need attention, too.

“It’s always important when you think about supply chains, including the agricultural supply chain, as a chain and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Follow Amy on Twitter:@AgAmyinAmes

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Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames